Posted by Powee Celdran
DISCLAIMER: Although this is mostly a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks to alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 11th century AD. This story will begin with events that happened in real history but will become fictional as it progresses.
Previous Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter VII- 10th Century
“The Battle of Manzikert was the most decisive disaster in Byzantine history. The Byzantines themselves had no illusions about it. Again and again, their historians refer to that dreadful day.” -Steven Runciman, English historian
Welcome to the 8th chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Last time, in chapter VII of this 12-part series, I went over the origins story of the Byzantine Renaissance from the 9th to 10th century on how the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) went gradually from a troubled empire fighting to defend itself to the ultimate military and cultural power in the medieval world. Though the last chapter experimented in retelling the rise of the Byzantine Golden Age from the 9th to 10th centuries by only taking out one character being Empress Theophano, therefore her son Emperor Basil II as well, which meant that a lot of the events turned out very much like how they did in real history, so basically nothing had changed although only in the short-term, as in the long-term things may be different for the Byzantines without Emperor Basil II, though that would be a very hard question to answer. Anyway, this chapter will begin like all chapters in this alternate history series, meaning that the altered course of history from the previous chapter will not continue to the next, therefore this chapter will start out with the events of real history taking place, meaning that the ruling dynasty- even if it could be true that they were in fact the Amorians- would still be called the Macedonian Dynasty here, as it is historically called and Emperor Basil II known as “the Bulgar-Slayer” who is Byzantium’s longest reigning emperor too will be in power at the turn of the 11th century, or more importantly the turn of the 2nd millennium AD. It was at the beginning of the 11th century that the Byzantine Empire under Basil II was again since the 6th century at its peak of cultural and military power that Byzantium here had an empire again controlling almost the entire Balkans all the way east into Armenia and Syria and west to Southern Italy while the army was so powerful that all other powers from beyond feared it especially considering how the Byzantine army was able to defeat the Bulgarian Empire itself, the emperor meanwhile became a supreme authority in the medieval world, the sophisticated Byzantine imperial culture was respected and revered by all including their rival western empire the “Holy Roman Empire”, and the state itself was a well organized one. However, as is the case with many empires, what follows its peak of power and influence is its decline and the case of Byzantium here in the 11th century was no exception as following the death of the great ruler Basil II in 1025, it would all go downhill gradually for the Byzantine Empire, thus this period would be known as the 11th Century Crisis. In this period known as the 11th Century Crisis, a series of weak and even bad leadership by some emperors, the constant fighting of wars, corruption in the government especially by greedy eunuchs, ambitious and power-hungry generals on the quest to gain the throne, and disastrous reforms in society would create a gradual economic decline in Byzantium and for the first time in Byzantine history the devaluation of their standard gold currency, but the worst part was that when all these setbacks were happening, the Byzantines would encounter new and unheard of enemies for the first time being the Seljuk Turks from the east and the fierce Norman warriors from the west. True enough the history of the Roman Empire, which extends all the way to the Byzantine Empire’s timeline does repeat itself as centuries ago the Roman Empire was the dominant world power in the 2nd century but what followed this time of power and prosperity was an age of decline being the 3rd Century Crisis which in fact was one of the events that led to the division of the Roman Empire, thus the creation of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire in 330, and centuries later here in the 11th century, the same would happen again to the Eastern Roman Empire wherein after an era of power and prosperity would be an age of political, economic, and military decline the same way it was for the 3rd century old Roman Empire. On the other hand, 4 centuries earlier (the 7th century), if you remember from chapter IV of this series, the Byzantines after defeating their traditional eastern enemy being the Sassanid Persian Empire would unexpectedly face the rise of a new enemy which was then the Arabs from the mysterious Arabian Desert of the south uniting into an empire known as the Caliphate under the faith of Islam and for the past 3 chapters of this series set in the past 3 centuries, the major conflict for the Byzantine Empire was always with these Arab powers but after 3 centuries of conflict, as told in the previous chapter, the Byzantines gained the upper hand and turned the tide of war against the Arab enemies from the east. Now in this chapter, we will say goodbye to the Arabs as the traditional eastern enemy of the Byzantines for 4 centuries as after beating them in battle so many times, the Arabs from being an invincible force of destruction would become severely vulnerable and divided, but even though the Byzantines may be on the winning side after finally weakening the Arabs, a new power from the east is to arise unexpectedly the same way the Arabs did back in the 7th century. Here in the 11th century, from the steppes of Central Asia, the unexpected power that would rise and within decades already pose a threat to Byzantium are the Seljuk Turks, a band of unknown tribal nomadic Turkic people that had recently united, converted to Islam, and formed an empire with a powerful cavalry army that will be a deadly force even to the superior and disciplined professional Byzantine army.
The gradual decline of Byzantium in the 11th century after its golden age would culminate at the catastrophic Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the first major battle between the centuries old Byzantine Empire and the new power of the Seljuk Empire which resulted in the most severe and humiliating defeat the powerful Byzantine army faced so far, thus showing that the Byzantine Empire’s army that was thought of as all powerful around the world was indeed not as powerful as it seemed, therefore it is considered the beginning of the end for Byzantium. Now when speaking of the Battle of Manzikert, a lot of people who know Byzantine history see it as a terribly tragic event like it was one battle that all of a sudden turned all of Byzantium’s successes around, but the truth is that even before this fatal battle, things were already going to go terribly for the Byzantines, thus what really led to the defeat of the powerful Byzantine army and the decline of its imperial power and prestige was not so much this defeat but the greed, corruption, and bad leadership the empire had been going through for the past decades following the death of Basil II in 1025. However, the real event that brought the powerful Byzantine Empire to its knees in the 11th century was in fact not the Battle of Manzikert itself in August of 1071 but its aftermath as following the defeat of the Byzantines here, their emperor Romanos IV Diogenes (r. 1068-1071) after being betrayed by a rival general was captured by the Seljuk Turks’ sultan Alp Arslan, and the emperor’s capture thus created panic and chaos in the empire and with this chaos, civil war erupted and so did a number of generals who used the chaos as an opportunity to seize the Byzantine throne for themselves rather than defending the empire against the new Seljuk enemy, thus this led to the weakening of the Byzantine state and the fall of the Byzantine heartland of Asia Minor to the Seljuks as well as the collapse of the centuries old Thematic System or the Themes. The aftermath of the Battle of Manzikert was so severe that shockwaves reached as far as Western Europe that in 1095, the new Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos who rose to power to save the empire from destruction sent a distress signal to the pope to send armies from Western Europe to help the Byzantines drive the Seljuks away from their heartland, but instead what came out of this was the First Crusade that would start a world-famous movement in the Middle Ages being the Crusades. The aftermath of the Battle of Manzikert meanwhile was so shocking that it became one of the major factors that led to the rise of the Crusades as well as the rise of the Ottoman Turks due to the Seljuks’ occupation of Asia Minor, and the Turks true enough would centuries later carry out the ultimate end of Byzantium in 1453 (read chapter XII), and true enough if the Byzantines won the Battle of Manzikert, then there would possibly be no Crusades and no Ottoman Empire centuries later. The main point of this story however is not altering history by having the Byzantines win a total victory over the Seljuks at Manzikert, thus becoming a world power again and making the Crusades never happen, but rather the point of this story will be if the Byzantines won the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, would the empire’s corruption and political instability still cause its decline?
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Note: Since this story is set in the 11th century after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters will be referred to as Byzantines, not Romans.
For this story, I am writing it alone this time, although with my own twists to the well-known catastrophic Battle of Manzikert which due to how well remembered it is in medieval history as a very significantly dreadful event as the quote mentioned above says, it is also a very popular what if in Byzantine history that many had in fact made their own alternate history stories and videos regarding Manzikert and its aftermath. My version here however will be my own take on the fatal battle in 1071 and therefore not a usual theory of this popular alternate history scenario as it will not only simply discuss what would happen if things went the other way around with the Byzantines defeating the Seljuk Turks, but rather it will discuss the difficult situation the Byzantine Empire went through after the Battle of Manzikert and if a Byzantine victory over the Turks could actually save the empire from falling apart in this said 11th Century Crisis or not. Basically this chapter will be a lot like the very first one of this series- Byzantine Alternate History Chapter I– except it will have more story than just pure battle scenes. On the other hand, some months ago I came across an article from Medievalists.net by Dr. Georgios Theotokis on the aftermath of the Battle of Manzikert and what really brought Byzantium to its knees (read it here), and true enough the Byzantine defeat at this battle is what ended Byzantium’s power in their heartland Asia Minor and thus the beginning of what would be the “Turkification” of Asia Minor which today is Turkey, but what I discovered from this article I mentioned that is very surprising and unlikely that caused the decline of Byzantine power in Asia Minor was not really the defeat to the Seljuks but the ambitions of the Norman mercenary leader Roussel de Bailleul who using the situation of the defeat at Manzikert took for himself some land in Asia Minor declaring himself its ruler in rebellion against the Byzantine emperor, and to deal with him the reigning emperor Michael VII Doukas (1071-1078) allied himself with the enemy which were the Seljuks and with their victory over the Norman mercenary, the Seljuks in return were able to take over most of Asia Minor, which was a mistake very difficult for the Byzantines to undo that it would take decades and even the call to start the First Crusade to recover their heartland. Now for this chapter, I will be exploring the era of the 11th century Byzantine Empire and the aftermath of Manzikert by putting more attention to the aftermath of the battle except with the Byzantines winning, therefore no massive Seljuk occupation of Asia Minor following the crucial battle. For its style, this chapter will be very much similar to the style of the previous chapter which is more of a fast-tracked documentary style of this era in which almost everything really is just a retelling of real history except with its own twist, and it is only at the latter part in 1071 where the real twist happens wherein also the story will have more depth and detail. Basically, this story will be more like a reverse style of the previous chapter (chapter VII) which had a fast-tracked documentation of the Byzantine golden age of the 10th century and how it came to be, while this one on the other hand will be a reverse of it as it will fast-track document how the decline of Byzantium after its golden age came to be as the 11th century progressed. The story of the entire 11th century history of Byzantium in which I find it to be another very interesting period in Byzantine history will be covered here as in order to explain the situation of the empire in 1071 as well as the background of the lead characters of this story and the new military aristocratic families that will rise up in this era such as the Komnenos, Doukas, and Diogenes families, we have to go back to the start of the 11th century in the reign of Emperor Basil II who’s reforms and conquests will shape the course of the 11th century history of Byzantium. This chapter will start in the year 1000 with the great and feared military emperor Basil II as the reigning emperor in order to give a background to this era where the Byzantine Renaissance from the previous century had culminated in together with the ultimate conquest of the Bulgarian Empire in 1018, then we move on to 1025 where the golden age ends with the death of Basil II wherein without ever being married or having children is succeeded by his ineffective brother Constantine VIII who dies just 3 years later. The story will then proceed to the heart of the 11th century when the crisis takes place with Constantine VIII’s daughter Zoe as the kingmaker behind her 3 husbands who were emperors one after the other in which the age of corruption and decline for Byzantium will start taking shape, then in 1056 the long-reigning Macedonian Dynasty that had ruled since 867 will come to an end with the death of Zoe’s sister Empress Theodora, the last Macedonian Dynasty ruler. Following the end of the Macedonian Dynasty, the empire would fall into a dynastic crisis with powerful aristocratic generals taking the throne and becoming emperors including Isaac I Komnenos in 1057, Constantine X Doukas in 1059, and Romanos IV Diogenes in 1068.
In this story too, there will be something like a historian’s angle of telling the story as a lot of the events of the 11th century here were told in the point of view of the historian Michael Psellos (1018-1078), a Byzantine monk, writer, philosopher, and politician who witnessed most of the events of this century himself therefore writing it all down in his famous work The Chronographia documenting the reigns of 14 Byzantine emperors from Basil II to Michael VII (976-1078), and in this story Michael Psellos himself will play an important role as he connects the early part of the century under the Macedonian Dynasty to the latter part when the fatal Battle of Manzikert takes place. This story will then be written in a more fast-tracked form until we hit 1071 where the main battle takes place and it is here where it will be more in depth with some insights of my own that I would add to the real story, and here in this chapter the most prominently featured character will be the emperor Romanos IV Diogenes who personally led an army of 40,000 soldiers including a large portion of mercenaries from all over the known world against the Seljuks in Manzikert, and here there will be a slight fictional angle to his story wherein he will be depicted like in real history as an aristocratic general from a disgraced family who marries the widowed empress Eudokia Makembolitissa, wife of the former emperor Constantine X Doukas in order to become emperor, but in this story Romanos IV has ambitions to take the throne in order to put his life back together and gain some credit for his disgraced family’s name by intending to finally defeat the invading Seljuks Turks in battle even if the Seljuks here never really wanted to fully invade Byzantium anyway but just take some land from them in order to pass through in order to carry out their ultimate goal of the conquest of the Arab Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt. Here, like in real history Romanos IV will also decide to confront the Seljuks at the massive Battle of Manzikert but for the sake of altering history, the Byzantines would win with Romanos IV coming out alive, but with this pyrrhic victory here, Byzantium would still go through a difficult situation while Romanos IV like in real history would still be betrayed by the imperial court in Constantinople while he is away.
Check this link to see alternate history videos on what if the Byzantines won the Battle of Manzikert, from Ripped Lincoln.
Now, a lot of this chapter’s information comes from the very detailed book on this era Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by the Byzantinist historian Anthony Kaldellis, so this chapter like the book may be something like a political and economic lesson as the complicated Byzantine politics and economic crisis of the era will have a major role here, but this is to show how complex these times were and also to again give you all a clear example of the word “byzantine” meaning complicated and how the Byzantine Empire really defined this word.
Although this chapter will have a lot of the complex Byzantine politics involved, it would also be a very action packed one with the major battles against the Turks and other powers including the Normans being the real villains of this century, Arabs, Pechenegs, and a lot more including the famous and powerful Varangian Guards fighting for Byzantium, and in addition this chapter too will mention a few side stories most especially on how these new enemies such as the Seljuk Turks in the east and Normans in the west came to be, and also how the Arabs would slowly disappear from the picture as if you take note, this chapter will be the last time the Arabs which appeared so prominently in the last 4 chapters will appear. Now in the bigger picture, the 11th century was not just a very critical period for Byzantium but for the world in general as this century primarily saw the rise of both Seljuk Turks in the east from unknown nomads to a deadly military power and the Normans in the west which would both play an important part in shaping the medieval world in general, and in this century the Normans would go a long way from Viking warriors and adventurers to dominant rulers of Europe as in this century the Norman knights would establish their own state in Italy and not to mention in 1066 the Normans from their base of Normandy in France under William the Conqueror would conquer England and establish what would be the Kingdom of England itself. What would make the 11th century a very eventful one is that it also saw the early Middle Ages transform into the High Middle Ages as most of the powers in Europe began to expand, while this century too would end with the rise of a new movement that will define the Middle Ages which were the Crusades that would last for 2 more centuries, and true enough Byzantium did have a part in starting the Crusades which was their defeat to the Seljuks at Manzikert. This story will then end at the end of the 11th century and in one way or another, just like in real history the well-known fan favorite Alexios I Komnenos would still become Byzantine emperor to save the empire, although without the defeat at Manzikert he would have no reason to call for the First Crusade, though the First Crusade would still happen anyway as this story would go with the Seljuks still continuing on heading down south and capturing the important holy city of Jerusalem as after all, the reason for the Western Europeans or Latins to launch the First Crusade in 1095 was more to avenge the fall of Jerusalem to the Seljuks and take it for themselves rather than to help the Byzantines recover their lands in Asia Minor from the Seljuks. Additionally, this chapter too will not just be all about Manzikert but will also focus on another major issue that happened in the 11th century which was the Great Schism of 1054 that finally split the Byzantine Orthodox Church and Latin Catholic Church for good which therefore shows the “cold war” style conflict between Byzantium and the Western world again still in place, but in fact becoming ever worse. At the same time, the year 1071 was not only fatal to the Byzantines because of their great defeat to the Seljuks at Manzikert, but it was also the same year when all of Byzantine Italy was lost as it had been conquered by the expanding Normans, thus this event as the History of Byzantium Podcast by Robin Pierson suggests is what totally and permanently separated Byzantium from the Western world making Byzantium more and more Oriental as the centuries would go by. Before beginning I would have to thank Anthony Kaldellis for his book that I had just mentioned as well as history related Youtube channels like Kings and Generals, Thersites the Historian, and History Time, as well as the History of Byzantium Podcast by Robin Pierson for providing good and accessible information to this era in Byzantine history, while I would also like to thank the artists (Amelianvs, Oznerol-1516, Ancient City Lullaby, Grayjoy15, Ediacar, Akitku, Skamandros, Eldr-Fire, Hatem Art, Spatharokandidatos, FaisalHashemi, AlexiosI, Minaboh24, and Diogos_Tales) for providing their 11th century related artworks for this story. Also, I would just like to remind you all that this chapter is more of a retelling of real history with a few alterations such as the personalities and intentions of a few historical characters here told in a rather mocking style not so much to put Byzantium down but to look up at their history.
Related Articles from the Byzantium Blogger:
Byzantine Alternate History Chapter VII- A retelling of the 10th century of Byzantium under the Amorian Dynasty
Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part II (1000-1461)
12 Turning Points in Byzantine History
A Guide to the Themes of the Byzantine Empire
Lesser Known and Would be Byzantine Emperors (695-1453)
The Leading Characters:
Romanos IV Diogenes- Byzantine emperor (1068-1072)
Constantine X Doukas- Byzantine emperor (1059-1067)
Eudokia Makrembolitissa- Byzantine empress, wife of Constantine X and then of Romanos IV
Isaac I Komnenos- Byzantine emperor (1057-1059)
Michael Psellos- Byzantine historian and politician
Michael VII Doukas- Byzantine emperor (1071-1078), son of Constantine X and Eudokia
Maria of Alania- Byzantine empress, wife of Michael VII
Alp Arslan- Sultan of the Seljuk Empire (1063-1072)
Nikephoros III Botaneiates- Byzantine emperor (1078-1081)
Roussel de Bailleul- Norman mercenary commander and independent leader of Asia Minor lands (1073-1076)
John Doukas Caesar- Imperial Court advisor and brother of Constantine X
Andronikos Doukas- Byzantine general, son of John Doukas
Alexios Komnenos- Byzantine general, future emperor
Nikephoritzes- Byzantine court eunuch advisor of Michael VII
Nikephoros Bryennios- Byzantine general
Robert Guiscard de Hauteville- Norman Duke of Calabria and Apulia (1059-1085)
Malik-Shah I- Sultan of the Seljuk Empire (1072-1092), son of Alp Arslan
Theodore Alyattes- Byzantine general
Background Guide: Byzantine characters (blue), Seljuks (green), Normans (red).
Prologue- The Reign of Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer and the Peak of the Byzantine Renaissance (1000-1028)
In the year 1000 as the 2nd millennium AD begins, the Byzantine Empire was at its rise to a time of prosperity and influence as not only did it have a powerful and well-organized professional army that was capable of crushing any enemy army whether Arab, Bulgarian, or nomadic Pecheneg, but it was a cultural power too wherein its imperial court culture and state administration was sought after that foreign powers like their rival Holy Roman Empire in Germany even began to adopt Byzantine court customs. On the other hand, Byzantium at the turn of the millennium had also culturally influenced powers far away such as the empire of the Kievan Rus’ (consisting of today’s Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia) as it is through Byzantium that the people of the Kievan Rus’ empire converted to Orthodox Christianity thus falling under the Byzantine sphere of influence. Ruling the Byzantine Empire at its apogee of cultural and military power at the turn of the millennium was Emperor Basil II who had already been ruling the empire alone since 976 and before that had already ruled as a co-emperor since he was only 2-years-old in 960.
In 1000, Basil II was a skilled administrator and soldier but also a tough and ruthless commander as well as a strict micromanager with his army and the state administration, though it is quite hard to believe how Basil II became this kind ruler with this kind of ruthless ruling style especially in war and living life like an ordinary soldier, that it would make you think that he grew up on the battlefield coming from a military family, but true enough he did not. Basil II was in fact a purple-born emperor or Porphyrogennetos born in the palace in 958 as the son of the emperor Romanos II (r. 959-963) and the empress Theophano, as well as a grandson of the famous scholarly emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 913-959), and true enough Constantine VII and his son Romanos II- who had been mentioned in the previous chapter- were not at all tough military men but highly sophisticated palace emperors that never even set foot in a battle. The reason though to why Basil II grew up to be different being a soldier emperor were the difficulties he faced when growing up as when he was only 5 in 963 his father Romanos II died suddenly and his mother Theophano had to marry the rising star general of the time Nikephoros II Phokas who became emperor here after marrying Theophano to rule as young Basil’s protector but in 969 Nikephoros II despite doing so much to strengthen the empire’s military power was killed in his sleep as part of a conspiracy by his nephew who became the next emperor John I Tzimiskes, who would also rule as Basil’s protector and only after John I’s death in 976 did Basil II come to power as the senior ruler as his younger brother Constantine VIII had already been his co-emperor ever since 962. Now a lot of Basil II’s tough personality, capability in commanding and inspiring his troops, and living a simple lifestyle like an ascetic monk was said to be heavily influenced by his stepfather Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas who as emperor did not enjoy luxury but instead was most happy in the battlefield with his soldiers, and Basil II was very much the same as his stepfather that way. Though Basil II was the senior emperor in 976, his rule was not secure as the two ambitious generals Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas challenged his rule by proclaiming themselves emperors seeing Basil as a palace born ruler was a weak one as true enough Basil up until 985 was under the control of his grand-uncle the eunuch Basil Lekapenos. Basil eventually grew tired of being a puppet of his corrupt eunuch grand-uncle and so in 985, Basil II without any hesitation banished his grand-uncle from the palace under charges of corruption and conspiring with the rebels and in 986, Basil II wanting to show that he was not a weak ruler and that the empire was ruled by a member of the ruling dynasty and not by eunuchs or ambitious generals decided to personally lead the army for the first time against their northern neighbor and enemy the Bulgarian Empire but lacking military experience here, Basil II was defeated in battle by the Bulgarians.
This defeat in 986 gave Basil II a strong desire for revenge against the Bulgarians and a lifelong goal to defeat them once and for all and absorb the entire Bulgarian state into the Byzantine Empire, although Basil’s defeat to the Bulgarians in 986 also exposed his weakness and created an opportunity for the general Bardas Phokas to rise up against Basil. Basil II however was able to defeat the rebellion of Bardas Phokas in 989 with the assistance of an army of 6,000 warriors from the Kievan Rus’ Empire which would be known as the Varangian Guard and with them, the rebel army of Phokas was swiftly destroyed while Phokas himself died from a stroke. The Varangian Guards then proved to be a successful military unit in the Byzantine army that from here on, they would become the new elite bodyguard force of the emperor, and warriors from as far as Scandinavia wherein they knew Constantinople as Miklagard or the “Great City” too would come to the emperor’s service as part of the Varangian Guard unit.
Meanwhile in 991, as Basil II was heading back to Bulgaria in a campaign against them, the other rebel general Bardas Skleros was at this point an old and broken man who had no more support as a lot of his rebel forces and that of Phokas defected to Basil II’s army and without anyone to turn to anymore, the old Skleros peacefully surrendered to Basil II before dying days later. The defeat and death of Bardas Phokas in 989 and Skleros’ surrender in 991 would show that Basil II had gained more military and political abilities, and after 991 Basil II would rule alone as the supreme authority with no one to challenge him. Now if you wonder how all of a sudden Basil II became the supreme and unchallenged authority of the empire, this was not only because he defeated his powerful rivals but because of his new policies, and the kind of policy Basil II would be remembered for was in putting away the old military aristocracy of Asia Minor which included that of the families of Phokas and Skleros and replacing them with new rising families that would be completely loyal to him, and these new aristocrats loyal to Basil would include the Komnenos family as well as the generals Nikephoros Xiphias and Constantine Diogenes. Basil II was also known to have confiscated property and wealth of the powerful landed aristocrats in Asia Minor known as the Dynatoi as a way to limit their power showing that the emperor was the supreme authority and not these landed military families, although Basil II also continued with the laws his predecessors passed which was to stop the powerful landed families from expanding their land by buying land from the small farmers, while these laws also made sure that these small farmers would not sell their land as they were to pay taxes and by selling their land, there would be no more taxes for the empire’s revenue, and certainly Basil II was the type that relied heavily on taxes for his military campaigns. In the meantime, as Basil II’s authority was ever increasing due to his policies to limit the power of the aristocrats, Basil II was able to continue his campaigns against the Bulgarian Empire in the north without any interruptions between in the first decade of the 1000’s according to the historian John Skylitzes (1040-1101), however the thing is that there are not that much sources that document a large part of Basil II’s reign from the 990s to 1010s, therefore there is a lot of missing information on the history of Byzantium at this point in time. However, what is known in this period is that while the Byzantines were at war with Bulgaria in the north, their recently conquered territories in Syria to the south were threatened by the new Arab power of the Fatimid Caliphate based in Egypt under the caliph Al-Hakim who is usually described as a madman as he was known to brutally persecute Christians, and Basil II here himself rushed all the way from the Bulgarian frontier south to Syria with his army with such great speed to defend it against the advancing Fatimids.
In 1000, Basil II signed a truce with Caliph Al-Hakim in order for Basil to resume his war with Bulgaria in the north and in the next years, Basil II would launch raids into Bulgarian territory and capture a number of important fortresses and cities as a strategy to further weaken the Bulgarian state before carrying out the complete Byzantine conquest. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian Empire to the north of Byzantium had once been a major political and military power in the early 10th century but in the 960s it had been destroyed by the Kievan Rus’ army and in 971, Bulgaria itself was conquered by the Byzantine emperor John I Tzimiskes although not entirely as only the eastern third was conquered while the western 2/3 of Bulgaria still remained independent and resisted against Byzantium with a new dynasty rising being the Cometopuli wherein a member of it being Samuil who was a Bulgarian general soon enough became the ruler or tsar of Bulgaria attempting to restore the old power of the Bulgarian state except that right when Bulgaria was rising again, Basil II put all his attention in finishing them off.
By the 1010s, Samuil was still the Tsar of Bulgaria, though the only major decisive battle between the Byzantine forces of Basil II and Samuil’s Bulgarian forces would only take place in 1014 at the Battle of Kleidion at a mountain pass in what is today’s border of Greece and Bulgaria. Here, Samuil planned to ambush the Byzantine army as they were going to march at this mountain pass but before the battle, Basil’s general Nikephoros Xiphias knew of the plan and so he attacked the Bulgarian forces from behind while Basil II and the main army consisting of the new Varangian Guard unit of massive axe-wielding Norsemen as well attacked the Bulgarian forces directly at the mountain pass. At the end of the day, the Byzantine forces under Basil II and the generals Nikephoros Xiphias and Constantine Diogenes won a decisive victory over Samuil’s forces, although Samuil was able to escape but the Byzantines were able to make 15,000 prisoners of war and to send Samuil a message, Basil had them all blinded except for one man out of every group of 100 which was to lead his group back to the Bulgarian capital of Ohrid.
When seeing his men blinded, Samuil suffered a heart attack and died shortly after later in 1014 while Basil for winning a decisive victory over the Bulgarians at the Battle of Kleidion and brutally blinding his Bulgarian prisoners would earn the sobriquet of the “Bulgar-Slayer” or Boulgaroktonos in Greek years after his death, and the defeat at Kleidion and death of Samuil would put Bulgaria into chaos and succession crisis which allowed Basil to conquer the rest of Bulgaria with ease for the next 4 years. In 1018, after the murder of the last Bulgarian tsar Ivan Vladislav, the Bulgarian nobles or boyars seeing there was no more chance for Bulgaria to survive unless they were put under the protection of the Byzantine Empire all surrendered to Basil II, however one Bulgarian general named Ivats chose to not surrender but at the end, he and his fortress were still captured by the Byzantines while Ivats himself was blinded, thus all resistance had ended. Now following the defeat of Ivats in 1018, the entire Bulgarian state which had been around for more than 300 years since the Bulgars first arrived in the Danube in 680 was wiped off the map, and here the Byzantine Empire extended all the way to the Danube River having almost the entire Balkans under their control. Following the complete annexation of the Bulgarian Empire, Basil II toured his recently conquered lands ending his tour in Athens to give thanks to God in the Parthenon which under the Byzantines became a church, then after this Basil would return to Constantinople celebrating a triumph.
With the entire Bulgarian Empire that had once been a power in the Balkans wiped off the map and annexed into the Byzantine Empire, the Byzantine army became a feared force by all the powers around them while the blinding of the Bulgarian POWs sent a message to other foreign powers beyond to not mess with Byzantium or else suffer the fate of Bulgaria. In fact, right after the conquest of Bulgaria, the Serbian states that neighbored it also surrendered to Byzantium fearing they would be destroyed like the Bulgarian Empire while to the northwest of it, the Kingdom of Croatia too accepted the authority of Basil II and agreed to be a vassal paying tribute to Byzantium also fearing they would suffer the fate of Bulgaria if they did not pay tribute, thus practically with Croatia vassalized all of the Balkans was under Byzantine control.
Basil II on the other hand despite ruthlessly crushing the Bulgarians in battle had managed to deal with the annexation of Bulgaria mercifully by making sure his new Bulgarian subjects were to be treated as equals to the Byzantines, that they would pay less taxes, and also that their nobility would still be allowed to keep their land, and that the Bulgarian Church was to be semi-independent, and this was all to make sure that the Bulgarians would stay loyal to the Byzantines and integrate instead of rebelling against their conquerors, and true enough Basil’s policy regarding the annexation of Bulgaria turned out to be successful. In the meantime as Basil II was busy with the conquest of Bulgaria, he had also concluded an alliance with the rising maritime power of Italy which was the Republic of Venice in order to use Venetian ships in transporting Byzantine troops around Southern Italy as the main Byzantine navy was too busy in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and to be specific what was happening in Byzantine Southern Italy at the same time the Bulgarian campaign was happening was that the local Lombard population rose up in rebellion under the Lombard nobleman Melus of Bari against Byzantine rule in Southern Italy. As for Byzantine Southern Italy, back in the 10th century the 3 Themes (military administered provinces) there of Calabria, Lucania, and Apulia had merged into a larger province known as a Catepanate under the control of a military governor called a Catepan which was more powerful than the standard military governor known as the Strategos, although a major percent of the population in Southern Italy consisted of the Germanic Lombards which had been settling in Italy ever since the late 6th century when conquering Byzantine Italy and because of them being the majority, the Lombards sought to overthrow Byzantine rule. In 1017, the Lombard nobleman Melus came across a group of armed pilgrims in Southern Italy and these pilgrims happened to be a new group of warrior people known as the Normans who came from Northern France. The Normans meanwhile have a very interesting story as at the beginning, they had started out as a band of Viking warriors from Norway which in 911 under their leader Rollo had settled in the Northern coast of France which then was the Kingdom of West Frankia as the King of West Frankia here offered the Viking Rollo some land there in exchange for them to protect West Frankia from other foreign raiders. Over the decades, West Frankia would evolve into the Kingdom of France and these Norsemen becoming known as the Normans settled and assimilated in Northern France which under them became Normandy, while also they had adopted the Frankish culture and language, French names, Latin Catholic Christianity, and a feudal system of governance which was to grant land to knights for their victory, although soon as landed knights kept rising up over the decades, Normandy which was too small for them ran out of land that a lot of knights became adventurers looking for lands abroad to settle in, thus they came across Southern Italy which they saw as fertile and could make them gain a lot of wealth.
In 1018 meanwhile, the same year Basil II conquered the Bulgarian Empire, these Norman knights in Southern Italy joined forces with the Lombard rebels of Melus of Bari and clashed against the Byzantine imperial army including the fierce Varangian Guards at the Battle of Cannae- ironically the same place the army of Carthage under their general Hannibal defeated the Romans in 216BC- but here the Byzantine army again proved its strength by crushing the Lombard-Norman alliance, thus Melus fled to Germany where he died, but the Byzantines seeing the strength of these Norman mercenaries were impressed and had decided to enlist them to the Byzantine army in Italy as mercenaries even giving them land there. Now back to Basil II, as the emperor he devoted his time to commanding the army that he was hardly present in the Imperial Palace in Constantinople but instead in army camps with his soldiers and instead of wearing the lavish silk robes the palace emperors like his father and grandfather wore, he preferred wearing his purple cloak over his armor and being a soldier emperor, he even ate with his men while they were at the camp. Meanwhile, the historian Michael Psellos who did not meet Basil personally as he was still a child in Basil’s reign, based on what he heard from Basil’s soldiers that he met describes Basil as someone who was shorter than average in height with a stocky built but looked impressive riding his horse, while also Basil was described by Psellos as austere in tastes and not an articulate speaker that was even bad at the grammar of the Greek language, and instead spoke in such a boorish and unsophisticated way with foul language.
Basil II now had a reputation of being cold-hearted, cruel, boorish, bad-tempered, and foul-mouthed that he never had any real friends or was never really close to anyone and neither did he want any friends, but he was nevertheless highly respected and feared by his army and subjects and that the children of his fallen soldiers that also enlisted in the army saw him as their father as in fact a lot of the children of Basil’s fallen soldiers themselves were put under his protection and he had them all raised to be tough and capable soldiers. Also being the disciplinarian micromanager, Basil was someone who noticed everything especially when it came to his soldiers’ behavior in the battlefield especially when it came to staying in formation, and if a soldier charged out bravely and broke formation despite killing a number of enemy soldiers, Basil would not reward this soldier for his bravery but instead dismiss him from the army without any question. On the other hand, though being a ruthless conqueror, Basil was at the same time a very skilled diplomat that he was able to annex entire states through diplomacy which was seen in 1001 when he absorbed the entire Georgian principality of Tao found along the eastern border of the Byzantine Empire into the empire itself by making a deal with their prince David III that when he dies, Basil would claim his entire principality for further protection, thus when David III died in 1001 his entire state became a Byzantine Theme.
Now after the conquest of Bulgaria, Basil II having the Georgian state of Tao under his control used it as a platform to launch a full expedition against the main Georgian Kingdom itself to the north, and in 1021 Basil again led the army in battle against the Georgians which resulted in victory for the Byzantines whereas the Georgian king George I fled the battle. In the meantime, Basil II was able to annex a number of Armenian states along the border that had been allied with the Georgian Kingdom into the empire in order to further protect them which included the Armenian principality of Vaspurakan which also became a Byzantine Theme, and in 1022 Basil II was able to score another major victory over the Georgians thus conquering a number of Georgian lands.
At the same time though, Nikephoros Xiphias the hero of the Bulgarian War who was in Asia Minor here rebelled against the emperor with support from the defeated George I of Georgia, although Basil proving himself to be effective again crushed Xiphias’ revolt and despite Xiphias helping Basil win victory in 1014 against the Bulgarians, he was not shown mercy and forced to become a monk. Now having secured the annexation of the small Armenian and Georgian states along the eastern border into the empire itself, Basil II turned to his other ultimate goal which was the complete Byzantine reconquest of Sicily which had for 2 centuries now been lost to the hands of the Arabs, and this full campaign against the Arabs in Sicily was to be carried out in 1026 but before 1026 came, Basil II died in December of 1025 in Constantinople. Now Basil II known as the “Bulgar-Slayer” would be remembered as one of Byzantium’s greatest emperors, in fact the second most influential emperor since the 6th century Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), and in Basil’s case it was because he was able to achieve the total conquest of Bulgaria while at the same time was able to show the known world that the Byzantine emperor and army was all-powerful, however Basil II still made a very great mistake which was in succession. Basil II as it turned out had never married his entire life therefore never having any children as he wanted to rule and live like an ordinary soldier and ascetic monk that he also had no woman ever close to him his entire life except his mother Theophano who had already died back in the 990s. Fortunately, Basil II had a brother the co-emperor Constantine VIII who had been his co-emperor since the very beginning, although he had no sons but 3 daughters who were even forbidden to marry by their uncle Basil II, as Basil thought that if his nieces married then the authority of their Macedonian Dynasty would be threatened.
Basil II died on December 15 of 1025 at the age of 67 as Byzantium’s longest reigning emperor and now the new emperor, Basil II’s younger brother Constantine VIII who was named after his grandfather Constantine VII had come to power as the sole ruler of Byzantium at 65 after ruling as a co-emperor with only a ceremonial function for a full 63 years but the problem was that Constantine VIII despite growing up through same difficulties in the dynastic succession his brother did never had any experience in ruling nor training in running an empire, and neither was he influenced by the ruling styles of his former protector emperors before which were Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes.
Constantine on the other hand was very much like his father Romanos II who lived a life of pleasure without a care for the real world, and the whole time when Basil II was fighting wars or reforming the government, Constantine spent his time hunting, feasting, enjoying comedy shows, and playing Polo or Tzykanion, and only once in his life did he join his brother in a military campaign which was in 989 in the war against Bardas Phokas, but that was it for Constantine. Now Constantine unlike Basil who was short and quite unattractive was tall, athletic, and graceful as well as a skilled horseman who even trained his own horses while he too was married, although when he came to power in 1025 his wife had already died, but with her he had no sons but 3 daughters in which the eldest one Eudokia was physically deformed therefore she chose to stay away from public affairs and become a nun while his two other daughters Zoe and Theodora were seen as fit except both were unmarried and were already quite old. By the time Constantine VIII came to power as sole emperor in 1025, he had already been suffering from gout but the worst part though was that he had no state experience, and so the golden age of Byzantium that Basil II and his predecessors worked so hard to attain would all of a sudden fade away in Constantine VIII’s reign, thus his reign is described as an “unmitigated disaster”, “breakup of the system”, and “a collapse of the empire’s military power”.
In his reign, all of Basil II’s reforms regarding the military and cutting down the aristocracy would already become undone so quickly, as Constantine having no government experience was easily manipulated by the powerful people of the court and within months, by listening to the advice of some aristocrats, the reforms of Basil II to limit their power were already undone and a lot of these military aristocrats had gained their land back. In the imperial court meanwhile, Basil II had gotten rid of the administration run by corrupt eunuchs which he greatly loathed but with Constantine, a lot of these corrupt eunuchs returned to power and for the imperial court, he filled up these positions with incompetent administrators loyal to him rather than competent and experienced ones. Though not having the skill and ambitions of Basil II, Constantine VIII had his cruelty which was seen with his persecution of the nobility for the slightest insults against him and when it came to dealing with punishing those who conspired against him whether they really committed a crime or if the crime was just made up, Constantine made blinding his favorite form of punishment. One example of Constantine VIII’s cruelty was in 1027 when he accused the Strategos of the new Theme of Vaspurakan Nikephoros Komnenos of plotting against the emperor and when brought to Constantinople, Nikephoros was blinded in front of the emperor and over in Western Greece when the people rebelled against and killed their oppressive governor, Constantine punished the people so severely and even had their bishop blinded. Constantine though may have been brutal and quick to anger but he was also someone very emotional that he would be extremely remorseful after blinding or executing someone. However, Constantine was not young and healthy and in 1028 he already knew he was dying, and so it was time he thought of a successor which was to marry his daughter Zoe despite his brother wanting none of his nieces to marry, but in order to continue the dynasty, Constantine fell for the competent general and Byzantine governor of Antioch Constantine Dalassenos to marry Zoe and succeed him. Dalassenos then set off on a journey to Constantinople to be crowned but midway through it he found out that he was no longer the candidate for succession as the emperor as usual was convinced by the senate that a weaker ruler must succeed him as the senate wanted someone that could be easily manipulated as Dalassenos was a strong general that could be too independent, therefore the senate relied on one of their own which was the Prefect or city mayor of Constantinople Romanos Argyros to marry Zoe and succeed Constantine. Romanos however was already happily married, though Constantine VIII had Romanos and his wife arrested and brought to the palace where Constantine forced Romanos to divorce his wife and banish her to a nunnery and marry Constantine’s daughter Zoe or else Romanos and his wife would be blinded as usual with Constantine’s punishments. Romanos then chose the first option and married Zoe as he true enough had some ambition to be emperor and only 3 days after the wedding, Constantine VIII at 68 died on November 11, 1028 as the last male ruler carrying the Macedonian Dynasty’s name.
Empress Zoe and the End of the Macedonian Dynasty (1028-1057)
The gradual decline of Byzantium’s imperial power had already begun in the 3-year reign of Constantine VIII (1025-1028) right when the empire was at its strongest which meant that there was still some hope for its imperial power to be revived as it had been only 3 years wherein Byzantium’s power deteriorated, but this was not the case here as the new emperor Romanos III Argyros was very much as incompetent as Constantine VIII.
Coming to power in 1028 after Constantine’s death and marrying his 50-year-old daughter Zoe, Romanos III was already 60 and had a good amount of government experience, except that he was more or less an idiot with unrealistic ambitions, but really he was just insecure as for one he was not part of the ruling dynasty but had only married into it and as emperor he had big shoes to fill as he wanted to imitate the rule of Basil II and continue it, though he was very far from Basil II when it came to military and political skills. Romanos III as emperor too wanted to pattern his rule on that of the great Roman emperors of the past including Trajan (r. 98-117) for his military might, Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180) for being a philosopher-king, and Justinian I the Great in terms of military and construction projects, but the truth was that Romanos was nowhere near these great men in ability. Now back to Zoe, this had been the first time she had married, and even though already 50, she was said to still be very beautiful, looking like she was still in her 30s and as a matter of fact, back in 1002 when she was much younger, she had been arranged to marry the half-Byzantine Greek Holy Roman emperor Otto III except when arriving in Italy, Zoe found out the man she was going to marry had died, then again in 1028 she was arranged to be married to the German prince Henry, son of the current Holy Roman emperor Conrad II, except that Henry was only 10 while Zoe was 50 and true enough the marriage never came to be as she already married Romanos. Zoe however had the looks but not the brains and though she held real power as she was part of the ruling dynasty, the same historian Michael Psellos describes her in an insulting way that she did not care about state affairs or the good of the empire but rather only cared about spending on luxuries that she in fact spent on the most expensive perfumes and silks from as far away as India.
Zoe’s marriage to Romanos though at first which was thought to be a happy one turned out to be the opposite as both were already old and passed the age to bear children that Romanos was said to even consult sorcerers on taking potions and even have surgery to make him and Zoe sexually younger again in order to have children, but at the end none of this worked and neither did their marriage that in only months after their wedding, the couple would no longer share the bed together. Meanwhile, Zoe’s younger sister Theodora who was not as attractive but smarter than her had an affair with the last Bulgarian tsar Ivan Vladislav’s son Presian who was a hostage in Constantinople, and together they conspired to assassinate Romanos III but the plot was uncovered and Presian was forced to become a monk while Theodora was banished by Zoe to become a nun. Now with Romanos III’s tax policies, it all seemed like the strong economy was about to fall apart as Romanos wanting to please the landed military aristocracy exempted them from taxes and also allowed them to resume buying off land from small farmers to expand their estates, thus the farmers too losing their land could no longer pay taxes and due to all this, the empire’s revenue would begin to decline. Becoming unpopular with his failed tax policies, Romanos III decided that it was time to prove his popularity by personally leading his troops in battle despite his old age and so in 1030 he led the army himself without realizing that this would be another stupid decision as for the past 5 years since Basil II’s death or even longer, the empire was relatively at peace, and now here in 1030 Romanos III for no clear reason would break this streak of peace by declaring war on the Arab Emirate of Aleppo in Syria despite them being allies of the Byzantines. The worst part now was that the area of Syria was a desert and Romanos had decided to attack in July, the hottest summer month and even the Arabs of Aleppo seeing it was not a good idea even asked Romanos to renew their peace agreement with Byzantium to avoid war, but Romanos hard-headed as ever refused these peace terms as well as the advice from his generals to give up the campaign, thus he continued the war. It was not surprising that in August of 1030 Romanos’ army was ambushed by the Arabs at the Battle of Azaz where the Byzantines lost a humiliating defeat, although not a lot of men were lost as a large number including the emperor were able to flee, but the Byzantine camp as well as their supplies ended up looted by the Arabs, thus this battle exposed the vulnerability of the Byzantine army for the first time.
The Byzantines however did not accept their defeat and so luckily for them, a local general in the area which was George Maniakes, a large and intimidating man with a brutal reputation and said to have a voice loud like thunder tricked the Arab army of Aleppo by offering them wine for a dinner feast, and when getting them all drunk, George was able to destroy every last one of them catching them off guard and mutilating all of the dead Arabs’ noses and ears sending them to the emperor as proof. Now finishing off the war with the Arabs in Syria with some success, Romanos III returned to strengthening his popularity with the people in Constantinople and now knowing he was not that much of a successful commander, he turned to construction projects and here to make a better picture of himself, he put a lot of the state’s money into building a large and lavish church at one of Constantinople’s hills known as the Peribleptos church, meaning “seen from everywhere”. This church however was not so much built as a sign of Romanos’ devotion to God but to glorify himself and show off his wealth, though also by this time, his marriage to Zoe was going from bad to worse that both being away from each other started having their own lovers. As for Zoe due to being away from Romanos, here by 1032 she had fallen in love with a man almost 30 years younger than her which was Michael the Paphlagonian, a native of Paphlagonia from Northern Asia Minor who although not from any noble family was from a family that became wealthy due to their profession as ship builders, although Michael before meeting Zoe was a money changer but was able to come across the empress as Michael’s older brother John known as the Orphanotrophos meaning “director of the orphanage” was the rising court eunuch finance official in Romanos III’s court. Now the eunuch John by 1032 had his first major moment in the imperial court when he arrested Constantine Diogenes- the same general that helped Basil II defeat the Bulgarians in 1014 if you remember- for charges of plotting against the emperor. Constantine Diogenes though had been married to a niece of Romanos III but when discovered that he was conspiring against the emperor, he was brought to the Palace of Blachernae along Constantinople’s land walls to be interrogated by the eunuch John but rather than confessing his part in the plot and the names of his co-conspirators due to not wanting a humiliating end of being executed, Constantine instead committed suicide by jumping off the palace’s wall. The Diogenes family thus became disgraced, however Constantine here in fact had a 2-year-old son Romanos Diogenes who would remain unharmed back in their family estate in Cappadocia, though he would true enough be a general and even the emperor one day. Romanos III’s health meanwhile began to worsen by 1033 that he was said to have turned into a “walking skeleton” losing a lot of weight and hair while his skin also began to turn pale, and this was possibly due to cancer, and Zoe did not give a care about her husband’s failing health but instead thought of ways to poison him to quickly finish him off, though Romanos still survived many poisoning attempts by Zoe and Michael who were lovers and to get Michael closer, Zoe had him become a servant in the palace who was in charge of cleaning Romanos’ feet and helping Zoe dress up, and it is here where their affair would grow ever more passionate despite their large age gap as after all Michael was getting closer and closer to Zoe due to the fact that he was actually the one in her dressing room seeing her dress and undress. Now in April of 1034, Romanos III finally died in his bath, a fate similar to that of the Byzantine emperor Constans II in 668- if you remember from chapter IV of this series- and Romanos’ death was not due to natural causes as when he was soaking in his tub, the servant sent by Zoe carefully drowned his head in the water and being already sick, Romanos quickly died without it looking like he was assassinated even if he was. The Patriarch of Constantinople Alexios I was shocked hearing of the emperor’s death but more shocked seeing Michael and Zoe in their purple imperial robes sitting on the throne, though after being bribed, the patriarch crowned both Zoe and Michael while Romanos III would be buried ironically in the Church of Peribleptos which he had built.
Watch this to learn more about Empress Zoe (Jack Rackam).
Michael IV the Paphlagonian in 1034 was now another emperor that came to power despite having humble origins, though he would be the last of these emperors and only in his 20s, Michael was handsome and energetic possessing a lot of intelligence despite not being that educated, however Michael on the other hand was not all perfect as even though he was young, he was already known to be suffering from epilepsy which was very obvious to everyone. Zoe then thought that Michael would be a much more devoted husband unlike Romanos III before him but again it turned out to be the opposite as when coming to power, Michael IV had Zoe confined to the women’s quarters of the palace forbidding her to have the slightest say in his rule, and instead Michael not having much political skills relied heavily on his older brother the eunuch John in the state’s finances and administration, despite John being extremely corrupt and greedy.
As emperor, Michael would intend to sideline the ruling Macedonian Dynasty which was basically Zoe and instead put his family members, the Paphlagonians in high-ranking positions in the government as he was here actually planning on replacing the ruling dynasty with his own. Michael IV’s reign began badly with famine and a locust plague in 1035, while at the same time the Nomadic Pecheneg tribes from the north of the Danube attacked Byzantine territory in the Balkans, and the Serbs too declared independence from Byzantium when the vassal Serb prince Stefan Vojislav refused to return the money he found in a shipwreck to Byzantium, and considering his condition of epilepsy he would be prone to ambitious generals wanting to seize the throne in their name, but being a decisive thinker Michael was able to put down a number of them. Though being an epileptic, Michael IV wanted to still show he was capable in carrying out full scale military expeditions and so in 1038 he decided to finish what Basil II failed to do before his death in 1025 which was the complete Byzantine reconquest of Sicily from the Arabs and with the fleet already assembled by Basil II years earlier, Michael ordered the postponed expedition to resume putting the empire’s rising star general George Maniakes in charge of it while Michael’s brother-in-law Stephen the admiral was in charge of the navy, and at the same time this large expedition would also include a multinational force consisting of the elite Varangian Guard unit led by the exiled Norwegian prince Harald Sigurdsson– known as Araltes in Greek- who would be the future King of Norway Harald III Hardrada, as well as Lombard and Norman mercenaries from Italy. Not to mention, George Maniakes back in 1037 being in command of the eastern armies since Romanos III’s reign had successfully recaptured the city of Edessa in Syria for the empire from the Arabs which meant that this expedition to Sicily would not be too hard now that he had a lot of experience in fighting Arabs. The expedition to reclaim Sicily thus was mostly successful that in only 2 years between 1038 and 1040, the Byzantines and their allies were able to successfully take back almost the entire island after the recapture of Syracuse, though right before completely driving off the Arabs from the island, George lost support from his Lombard allies while the Normans unhappy with their pay abandoned the Byzantines and returned to mainland Italy where they rebelled. The admiral Stephen meanwhile after being mistreated by the hot-tempered George wrote a letter to the eunuch John and Michael IV accusing George of conspiring to overthrow Michael IV, and so John recalled George to Constantinople to be imprisoned, thus the expedition to recapture Sicily ended in tragedy right before it could completely succeed.
This expedition then was the last Byzantine attempt in taking back Sicily, although there was some reason too for why the troops had to be recalled as at the same time, Bulgaria once again erupted in rebellion. On the other hand, Harald Hardrada was recorded in the Viking sagas that he had campaigned and fought bravely in all corners of the empire during Michael IV’s reign and after the Sicilian expedition, he battled the uprising of the Lombards and Normans in Italy but lost, but then Harald and his men were immediately recalled to join the Byzantine forces in Bulgaria when the uprising broke out there. As it turned out, the policy of Basil II to keep the taxes for the Bulgarians low was violated as the eunuch John began to impose heavier taxes on the empire’s Bulgarian Themes for his own personal use thus triggering a revolt among the Bulgarian population there, although their uprising in 1040 was also for nationalistic purposes as the Bulgarians even after being conquered by Basil II still felt a sense national identity thus wanting independence from Byzantium, and so the Bulgarians rallied under a man named Delyan, a Bulgarian hostage who escaped Constantinople and returned to Bulgaria where he claimed that he was a grandson of the former tsar Samuil.
The Bulgarian rebels under Delyan then seized the city of Belgrade in the Balkans, and here Delyan was proclaimed by the rebels as their tsar being renamed Peter II in opposition to the Byzantine emperor and within months the rebellion grew stronger as it swept across the Balkans by 1041. With the situation in Bulgaria becoming worse, Michael IV here despite his health already becoming worse due to epilepsy and a new condition of swelling legs, he decided to lead the army himself and put down the Bulgarian uprising of Delyan once and for all. The Byzantines here assisted by the Varangian Guards under Harald Hardrada fought a difficult war against the Bulgarian rebels but at the end still managed to succeed while Delyan himself was captured. Now there are two stories regarding Delyan’s fall and death in which one was that his cousin Alusian who was a Byzantine double-agent tricked and blinded him then sent him over to Constantinople to be executed, and the other one was recorded in the Viking sagas wherein Harald Hardrada himself cut down Delyan in battle, and this story would go for the version in the Viking sagas and so Delyan here in 1041 was killed by the Viking Harald Hardrada who would then become known as the “Bulgar-Burner” the same way Basil II was remembered as the “Bulgar-Slayer”. The cities and areas that had fallen to the Bulgarian rebellion then returned back to the empire’s control but Michael IV soon enough was that sick that he was near death wherein a seizure could happen at any time. By December of 1041 as Michael IV was close to death, he named his nephew also named Michael, the son of the admiral Stephen and already made a Caesar as his successor, and Michael IV too had made his older wife Empress Zoe adopt his nephew too. Before his death on December 10 of 1041, Michael IV retired to a monastery and even when Zoe begged to see him before his death he still refused, thus he died without seeing his wife for the last time.
The rise of the Paphlagonian family of Michael IV thus definitely showed that the age-old Byzantium wherein nobodies when having connections to the imperial court could even rise up to become emperor whether they were to do it for the good of the empire or if they were just gold diggers. Michael IV however due to the strong influence his family began to have over the imperial court was able to continue his Paphlagonian Dynasty as his nephew Michael V succeeded him.
As the present day historian Anthony Kaldellis put it, the rise of the Paphlagonian family of Michael IV shows that the republican systems of Ancient Rome still lived on to the 11th century, and true enough Byzantium did not have any laws saying that their emperor had divine rights wherein they could only be succeeded by their eldest sons, therefore this is what allowed either ambitious generals or opportunistic gold diggers like Michael IV to grab the opportunity and take the throne, though in this case the long-time Macedonian Dynasty was still in power through Zoe even if her role was only ceremonial, but true enough the people too had a say in the imperial government and here Zoe despite not really doing anything was popular with the common people for the reason of being part of the legitimate dynasty as it was usual for the common people to prefer someone legitimate rather than a usurper. Now for an emperor to be able to consolidate his rule without being challenged, he had to both be able to please his people but also be feared by them otherwise if he was too soft, he would be an easy target, though the emperor too should not be too terrifying as this could make him seen as very unpopular for being too tyrannical, and the perfect example of who had a balance of being loved and feared was Basil II.
In the case of the new young emperor here which was Michael V, he did not have any of the qualities of a strong ruler being both loved and feared, instead he appeared too harsh to his subjects on the outside but on the inside was very weak and emotional, and as a matter of fact not independent as his uncle the eunuch John was still the power behind him. At the beginning of 1042 with Michael V in power, he released a number of political prisoners his uncle Michael IV imprisoned including the general George Maniakes who was returned to his position as the Catepan of the Themes of Southern Italy, but the fatal mistake Michael V made here was in banishing his stepmother Zoe from the palace and sending her to a nunnery in the Princes’ Islands outside Constantinople in the Marmara Sea. The people of the capital had apparently loved Zoe and looked down on their rulers the Paphlagonians who they all saw as nobodies that just grabbed the throne for no good reason and when finding out Zoe was banished, thousands of people marched in the streets demanding that Michael V return her to power. The young Michael V having no popular support due to his low birth then agreed to return Zoe to the palace but when returning, Zoe however released her younger sister Theodora from the nunnery where she was sent to years ago and by popular demand declared her co-empress against Michael V in order to please the people. Michael V then with his other uncle fled the palace to the Monastery of Stoudion in Constantinople although the mob still followed them there where they seized and blinded both of them. Now the historian of this period Michael Psellos first appears in the picture here as a secretary in the imperial court wherein he had witnessed Michael V and his uncle seized and blinded in which he says that the young Michael childish as usual screamed and kicked as he was being blinded, and in this story’s case we will again go with the version from the Viking sagas wherein it was again Harald Hardrada that had blinded Michael V.
Now in April of 1042, the sisters Zoe and Theodora would rule the empire together as co-rulers while Michael V would die 4 months later as a monk from the injury caused by his blinding, and although Zoe was the higher authority in name as she was the older sister, Theodora was the power behind Zoe as she had more intelligence. For 2 months, both Zoe and Theodora ruled together but soon enough the Byzantine Senate objected to their rule as they saw that women could not rule for a longer time, therefore a man was needed to run the show while on the other hand, the joint rule too was becoming a bit too unbearable as both sisters were eventually competing with each other on who had more favorites while Theodora grew jealous of Zoe for having more public support. A man was thus needed to run the empire and it was up to Zoe to choose her 3rd husband even if 3rd marriages were seen as unacceptable by the Orthodox Church- if you remember from the previous chapter- and this time the 64-year-old Zoe who was still attractive would have to choose her husband among 3 candidates, and the person she chose was her old lover from before who was here the 42-year-old Constantine Monomachos, a senator and civil aristocrat from the capital.
The new emperor Constantine IX was generally a pleasure- and peace-loving person due to his origins as a city and not landed military aristocrat from the provinces, and although is he described by Psellos as somewhat neglectful towards state affairs and hated stress therefore only wanting to be emperor to enjoy life’s pleasures to the fullest, he was still someone who would act on issues when needed and for Constantine IX in his reign, he would face more difficulty than time to enjoy life. As someone who only fought wars when necessary, Constantine IX put a lot of money into funding universities, learning centers, and churches in Constantinople and it was also in his reign when this era’s primary source Michael Psellos would rise to prominence as Constantine IX would be Psellos’ patron despite Psellos slandering him. As with Zoe, Constantine IX as the 3rd husband finally allowed her to freely spend on luxuries as he enjoyed spending on them too, though at the beginning of his reign what both he and Zoe would put their attention to is in getting rid of the regime of the troublemaking Paphlagonians by banishing the family members of Michael IV which included the corrupt eunuch John, and not to mention it was also around this time when Harald Hardrada ended his service in the Varangian Guard returning home to Norway rich with the wealth he made serving the empire. Now the emperor on the other hand was someone who was easily paranoid by conspiracies especially by powerful generals even if they did not make their imperial ambitions known, and these ambitious generals included George Maniakes in Southern Italy who Constantine IX fearing an uprising by him ordered him to be recalled to Constantinople. In Italy, George was furious about this and when hearing from the emperor that he was going to be replaced, he declared himself emperor and rebelled against Constantine IX as he had grown tired of going back and forth from military service. George and his army then crossed over to the Balkans in 1043 where he faced off the emperor’s army but right before he could win the battle, he was wounded thus later dying from his wounds, and in the panic his army switched sides back to the emperor while George’s head was paraded back in the capital. Soon after George Maniakes’ rebellion was defeated, Constantine IX met a surprise invasion by the fleet of the Kievan Rus’ from the north as apparently some time ago, some Rus merchants had been killed by an angry mob of Constantinople’s locals triggering the Grand Prince of Kiev Yaroslav I the Wise to attack Byzantium despite the Byzantines and the Rus having concluded an alliance back in Basil II’s reign.
The Byzantine fleet however won the naval battle against the Kievan Rus’ fleet near Constantinople while the emperor and Psellos who records this event watched it from above a hill and with the defeat of the Rus, both Constantine IX and Grand Prince Yaroslav settled peace wherein Constantine married off his daughter from a previous marriage to Yaroslav’s son the future Grand Prince Vsevolod I while their son, the future Grand Prince Vladimir II born in 1053 used the name Monomakh which was the Rus’ translation of his grandfather Constantine IX’s last name Monomachos. Following this short conflict with the Rus, Constantine IX marched an army further east into Armenia in 1045 wherein he captured the far-flung small Kingdom of Ani along the eastern Byzantine border in what is now modern Armenia after its ruler Gagik II refused to submit as a vassal to the empire, thus Constantine IX expanded even further east than Basil II did before him, but this expansion would soon enough further expose Byzantium to more enemies from the east. As part of wanting to avoid ambitious generals from rising up in order to rule in peace, Constantine IX suspecting his nephew the general Leo Tornikios of having imperial ambitions had Leo fired from command and forced to retire as monk, however this action backfired as Leo was popular with his army that in 1047, they rose up against Constantine IX proclaiming Leo as their emperor thus marching to Constantinople to besiege it. Now Byzantium had not had any major civil wars for almost 60 years since the one between Basil II and Bardas Phokas, and it was only here in the reign of Constantine IX when civil wars would return first with George Maniakes in 1043 which was not that large but this one in 1047 against Leo Tornikios was a much more serious one as the rebel army actually managed to attack the walls of Constantinople. The emperor in fact almost lost his throne and life when defending the capital from the rebels due to his lack of military experience but by having some political experience and public support, the people themselves volunteered to fight on his side while Constantine managed to win by bribing off Leo’s men to abandon him and switch sides to the emperor. Leo after being defeated fled but was captured and blinded by the emperor’s men, and although Constantine IX was victorious, this civil war weakened military presence in the Balkans by the time a mass migration of the wild and unruly Pecheneg people from the north of the Danube arrived in 1048 which eventually led to a devastating war between the Byzantines and the rebellious Pecheneg settlers.
Now over in the east, the expansion of Byzantine territory further east wherein no Byzantines had set foot in for over 4 centuries would turn out to be more of a liability than an achievement for the Byzantines as this conquest of Ani in 1045 exposed them to new and unheard enemies from the east and in this case, it was the sudden but rapidly growing empire of the Seljuk Turks. The origins of these Turkic people known as the Seljuks meanwhile remain to be shrouded in mystery, although they were named after their nation’s founder Seljuq, a warlord from the Oghuz Turkic people of the Central Asian steppes that had served the former Khazar Khanate of Southern Russia along the Caspian Sea as a military leader but when the Khazar state was destroyed in the 960s by the Grand Prince of the Kievan Rus’ then which was Sviatoslav I, Seljuq led his men east wherein they arrived deep in the steppes of Central Asia (today’s Kazakhstan) wherein they encountered Arab traders and converted to Islam. With their conversion to Islam, the people of Seljuq became united but at the same time this also attracted hundreds of nomadic people from the area to join their cause and the moment their movement grew, they began to expand and build a nation in the steppes. Their first leader Seljuq died by 1009 and his descendants would be the ones to carry out his bloodline ruling their people; thus, their empire took its name from its ruling dynasty named after its founder.
The difficult situation these Seljuk people went through when living in the steppes made them hardline Muslims thus making them not only Jihads but more specifically Ghazi meaning Muslims fighting other Muslims and being part of the Sunni sect of Islam, the Seljuk Turks made it their mission to fight the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt which belonged to their rival Islamic sect of Shia, while their purpose for expanding to and conquering what is Iran, Iraq, and Eastern Asia Minor was to find more land for their sheep to graze as it was too dangerous in the Central Asian steppes with all the other nomadic invaders coming in. At the beginning, the Seljuks started out as mercenaries serving their more powerful neighboring states, then in 1035 their people when gaining more military experience would establish their own state in the region of Khorasan north of Iran and from there, they would continue expanding westwards. The Seljuk people too had expanded their lands by taking advantage of the weakness of other states such as the still surviving but out of function Arab Abbasid Caliphate in Iraq, and now forming their own state, the Seljuks adopted the Islamic culture and religion but still kept their nomadic ways of fighting such as horse archery and the lifestyle of moving their tents around.
In 1046 due to the Byzantines expanding too far into the east by capturing Ani, they would encounter these Seljuk warriors for the first time and in 1048 their forces would clash for the first time at the Battle of Kapetron, which resulted however in victory for the Byzantines as the Seljuks did not yet come in large numbers. Over in Italy meanwhile, the Norman mercenaries had the same kind of expansion story the way the Seljuks did in the east and just like the Seljuks who expanded by taking advantage of the weakness of their neighboring states, the Norman mercenaries in Italy did the same as after the failed Byzantine reconquest of Sicily in 1040, the Norman mercenaries with them began seizing land in Italy for themselves. The power behind the ambitious expansion of the Normans in Italy was the noble Hauteville family of knights from Normandy which consisted of 12 brothers who were sons of the Norman knight Tancred de Hauteville (980-1041), and following their victory over the Byzantines in 1041, the Hauteville brother William known as the “Iron Arm” would establish the Norman County of Melfi in Southern Italy together with his other brothers. Present day historian Anthony Kaldellis now says that these Normans expanded their power through acts of piracy and terrorism in which they created trouble in Southern Italy by attacking locals in order to force them to pay them money in exchange for protection which led them to annex their lands in Southern Italy to their control.
The Normans despite their courage in battle were more or less just greedy and bloodthirsty conquerors that took pleasure in pressuring weaker people in order to rule over them, which is why in this story’s case the Normans are the true villains of the 11th century more than the Seljuks. In very little time, the Normans would capture the Lombard Principality of Benevento thus making their holdings in Southern Italy much larger that the pope here which was the German Leo IX would already become threatened by the expansion of the Normans fearing that they would soon attack Rome. In 1053, the pope himself led an expedition with allied forces consisting of Lombards, German mercenaries, and even the Byzantine forces from the still surviving Byzantine Catepanate in the south of Italy against the Normans and would clash at the Battle of Civitate which resulted in a decisive victory for the Normans commanded by the late William’s brother Robert Guiscard whose sobriquet Guiscard was French for “the Cunning” as he was cunning in battle.
The pope was then taken as a prisoner by the Normans although treated well as the Normans too were devout Catholics while over in Byzantium, Constantine IX was in a difficult situation as he had to face conflicts with the Seljuks in the east, Pechenegs in the Balkans, and Normans in Italy all at the same time. The constant spending on these wars which too included the civil war against Leo Tornikios in 1047 and all his wasteful spending on construction projects and luxuries as well as money he handed out to please his people as he was known to be a generous spender, the economy of the empire would fall so severely that it was in Constantine IX’s reign wherein for the first time in the 700 years of Byzantine history that their standard currency which was the gold coin known as the Solidus would be devalued and so the standard gold coin would no longer be purely made of gold, which was indeed very embarrassing for the prestige of Byzantium as the world power. In order to keep the empire’s tax revenue flowing, Constantine had to push for a new kind of political system across the empire known as the Pronoia System which would be Byzantium’s type of feudal system replacing the centuries old Thematic System, and in this new governing system land would be granted to particular individuals in exchange for military service and those who are granted the land are required to collect taxes from within it which would fund the imperial treasury.
In the meantime, Zoe had died quietly in 1050 at the age of 72 and in 1053 the Pecheneg rebellion in the Balkans came to an end despite the Byzantines losing in battle against them, although the general that led the Byzantine troops here Nikephoros Botaneiates who had shown great skill and bravery in fighting was promoted to the high rank of Magistros, although to conclude the issue, the emperor had to settle a deal with the Pechenegs allowing them to settle within the empire’s borders. The most significant event in Constantine IX’s reign however happened in 1054 and it was not a very pleasant one as it had to do once more with the differences of the Byzantine Orthodox Church and Latin Catholic Church which had already been separate and usually at odds with each other ever since the 8th century- back in chapter V of this series if you remember- when the Byzantines at that time had the policy of breaking icons known as “Iconoclasm” which then made the Church of Rome led by the pope grow independent from the Church of Constantinople and even though the Byzantines gave up breaking icons in the mid 9th century, the damage was too much that both Churches could no longer reunite and here in 1054 was the final separation between both Churches of Rome and Constantinople. In 1054, the issue regarding the two Churches mostly had to with the supremacy of the pope or Patriarch of Rome over the Christian world while the theological issues here were mostly minimal as it was just whether the use of unleavened bread the Latin Catholics of the west use for Mass or the leavened bread the Byzantines of the east use was correct, though there was one major theological issue that had to be settled here in 1054 and this had to do with term Filioque whether the Holy Spirit proceeded and was thus equal to the Father and Son which was believed by the Western Catholics, or if the Holy Spirit just proceeded from God the Father as believed by the Byzantines.
This issue however had some political reasons too as back in Southern Italy in the lands the Normans had conquered which had been Byzantine lands, the Norman occupiers by order of Pope Leo IX who now sided with them after he was captured by them the previous year (1053) ordered that these Byzantine Orthodox churches in Southern Italy be converted to Catholic churches wherein Latin and not Greek rites would be practiced. The emperor Constantine IX was willing to comply with the pope’s orders as he did not want any conflict, but the troublemaker here was the current Patriarch of Constantinople Michael I Keroularios who was greatly furious about the pope’s orders as a lot of people in Southern Italy which were Byzantine Greeks were still Orthodox in faith, and in retaliation to the pope’s threatening to shut down the Orthodox churches in Southern Italy if they did not convert, Patriarch Michael had all Latin Catholic churches in Constantinople shut down without giving any conditions. The pope however before his death in 1054 decided to settle things peacefully with the patriarch by sending the French cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida and other papal legates to Constantinople but when arriving at the Hagia Sophia, it was a trick as instead of negotiating, Cardinal Humbert laid the pope’s excommunication order on Patriarch Michael who was so insulted from this that in return he excommunicated Humbert and his delegation, thus this was the final split between both Churches known as the “Great Schism” as after this there is no going back to unity for both if not for a few unsuccessful attempts to reunite in the following centuries of Byzantine history. This event was then a very shameful one especially for Constantine IX who had to shamefully watch it happen although this was also the end for him as just a few days into the next year 1055, Constantine died peacefully at age 55. A fun fact here is that even up to this day in the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, there is a mosaic depicting Empress Zoe on the right with her husband on the left offering gifts to Christ, and as it turns out the husband in the mosaic up to this day is Constantine IX, her 3rd and final husband though back in the time of this story, the left mosaic’s face had been changed twice when Zoe had a new husband which means that before Constantine IX’s face was in place there it was Michael IV’s, and before him Romanos III’s.
Watch this to learn more about the Great Schism (Kings and Generals).
At his death in 1055, Constantine IX Monomachos however had no male heirs although luckily the last remaining member of the Macedonian Dynasty was still alive and this was Zoe’s younger sister Theodora who had been Zoe’s co-ruler ever since both came to power in 1042 and the whole time Constantine IX was in power, Theodora still kept her position. Theodora now in her 70s was at least still agile as she would have to rule the empire alone now, thus making her the second woman to rule Byzantium alone with Empress Irene of Athens (797-802)- the lead character of chapter VI of this series if you remember- being the first sole female ruler of Byzantium. Theodora due to her old age and being a woman was not really taken seriously as a ruler that she would become a target for plots by ambitious generals, and this was already seen right when she came to rule the empire alone in early 1055 as Constantine IX before his death named the governor of the Theme of Bulgaria Nikephoros Proteuon as his heir, however Theodora had already beat Proteuon to the throne, and so Proteuon was arrested and forced to become a monk.
In her reign, despite Theodora not being seen as fit, she still did all she could to run the empire well although her style of ruling was not very effective as her rule was mostly influenced by her eunuchs. In addition, Theodora removed a number of highly skilled generals from their positions and replaced them with her loyal eunuchs while she did the same too with Church officials which in return offended Patriarch Michael Keroularios. At this time, Michael Psellos had retired as a monk in a monastery ever since 1054 but in 1056 he was recalled to Constantinople by Theodora but shortly after, Theodora suddenly fell ill coming close to death yet not even having named a successor. It was now certain that the Macedonian Dynasty that had been in power ever since its founding by Emperor Basil I the Macedonian in 867 without any interruptions despite a number of other families marrying into it and ruling through them would come to an end, and without having been married her entire life as well as having no children, Theodora had to name her successor at the last minute. Before her death on August 31 of 1056, Theodora named her elderly finance minister and court secretary Michael Bringas as her successor, and thus Theodora died as the last ruler of the Macedonian Dynasty.
The new emperor Michael VI Bringas known as Gerontas or “the old” in Greek now was not entirely chosen by Theodora but since she was too weak to say something, she just agreed with her eunuchs’ choice and Michael VI was for these eunuchs the perfect choice as he was an old man who was both weak and unambitious that he could be easily manipulated by them or that he could easily grant them favors. The military aristocrats of the Themes in Asia Minor meanwhile saw that the new emperor was someone they could take advantage of in terms of easily rewarding them, but when meeting him they were proven wrong as Michael VI told them “deeds first, rewards later”. Michael VI too being a civil aristocrat from the city was a snob towards the military aristocracy of the provinces who he saw as backwards and unsophisticated and so he did not reward them as much as he did with the city’s aristocrats, though he underestimated the military as they were still a lot more powerful than he thought and among the military aristocrats, the one who felt most insulted by the emperor looking down on them was Isaac Komnenos, a general who had been in the Byzantine army ever since the days of Basil II, yet he too was one of the many young orphaned soldiers placed under Basil II’s care long ago as Isaac’s father Manuel had died a long time ago while his uncle was the same Nikephoros Komnenos Constantine VIII blinded back in 1027. As it turned out, Isaac was one of the generals dismissed by Theodora earlier but he had a strong support base that included his childhood friends who were now in their 50s and already powerful generals which included his younger brother John Komnenos and friends Constantine Doukas, Katakalon Kekaumenos, and the same Nikephoros Botaneiates that fought against the Pechenegs in 1053. Having had enough of the empire run by eunuchs, empresses, civil aristocrats, and weak emperors, Isaac felt this was time to put the empire under the rule of strong military men again like it was under Basil II and thus bring back the glory days of the empire and so in June of 1057, Isaac declared himself Emperor Isaac I Komnenos with the support of his military cronies, while the Varangian Guard too shifted to Isaac’s cause and in August he and his rebel army clashed with Michael VI’s imperial troops at the Battle of Hades in Asia Minor where Isaac and his rebels won, thus they headed straight to Constantinople where the emperor Michael VI did not want to accept his defeat that he even agreed to settle peace with Isaac adopting him as his son and making him a Caesar. Michael Psellos was the one sent to Isaac’s camp across the Bosporus to negotiate with him but the emperor’s proposals were rejected, although Isaac only agreed to it if he were made co-emperor of Michael VI but back in the capital, the people broke out in a massive riot in favor of Isaac. Michael VI was now hopeless and so here it was the patriarch Michael Keroularios who happened to be the kingmaker that convinced Michael VI to abdicate as the empire was in need of a stronger emperor like Isaac and so Michael VI retired to be a monk allowing Isaac to take the throne and be crowned by the patriarch.
The New Regime and the Road to Manzikert (1057-1070)
Once again, the common people of the empire had a say when they all backed the military man Isaac I Komnenos as their new emperor in opposition to the useless Michael VI and once Michael VI abdicated and retired to a monastery, Isaac I was emperor being the first of the Komnenos line which will later on rule the empire.
When coming into power in 1057, Isaac I was 50 and in appearance was tall and intimidating with a loud voice, though what made his position a powerful one despite having no legitimate ties to the previous Macedonian Dynasty was that he both had powerful friends who were all high ranking generals and he too belonged to the Komnenos family, a crony family of Basil II that rose to prominence under him and as emperor, Isaac was clear about his intentions to restore the glory days of the Byzantine army under Basil II that had been neglected by the past weak civilian emperors. The people and most especially the army tired of being ruled by palace emperors like Romanos III and Constantine IX that only cared to spend on churches and luxuries were now satisfied with their new soldier emperor, although Isaac was a bit too rough around the edges despite being highly educated. Isaac’s first acts were to appoint his conspirators against Michael VI to the highest court positions such as his brother John who was made the Kouropalates or head of the palace as well as the empire’s top commander or Domestikos of the western armies based in the Balkans while Michael Psellos who despite serving the previous regimes was still kept in a high court position for switching his support to Isaac, and it was here during Isaac’s reign where Psellos would get all the information about Basil II despite Psellos never meeting Basil in person, although Isaac when he was younger did and it was through Isaac where Psellos would get to know what Basil II was like. Now ruling the empire, Isaac I’s top priority was to restore the army and its pay and when it came to taxes, Isaac was a strict tax collector that did not go with second chances while at the same time he was also not a lavish spender like the previous emperors, but rather he only spent on the most necessary things which for him was the army and the soldiers’ pay. Isaac I’s major reform in terms of the state’s economy was in cutting off bonuses for court officials and the land grants to certain people which Constantine IX introduced as Isaac’s main goal here by doing this was to reverse the devaluing of the standard gold currency that took place under Constantine IX. Isaac I too had made it clear to everyone that he was to rule as a strongman emperor and something like a military dictator by minting coins with his image holding a sword instead of a scepter or orb like the previous emperors, although Isaac soon enough overdid his image as a strong emperor that he would start becoming unpopular for issuing his reforms too soon such as his strict policies in taxation and cancelling bonuses, and the group of Byzantine society that he became most unpopular with was the Church as he cancelled donations given to them by the nobility while he imposed taxes on the Church was well. Once again, the troublemaker was the same patriarch Michael Keroularios who even went as far as threatening to remove Isaac from power as he after all put Isaac in power, therefore he could take him down and he believed he could as he also successfully put down Michael VI. Isaac in 1058 however grew tired of the patriarch’s arrogance which was already made very clear when the patriarch wore the purple boots reserved only for the emperor but before Patriarch Michael could organize a plot, Isaac immediately acted on this and had the Varangian Guard arrest the patriarch and send him to an island in the Marmara Sea. The patriarch despite being sent to exile still refused to resign and so back in Constantinople, Isaac held a council with the objective to legally depose Patriarch Michael but before the council was concluded in early 1059, the patriarch had died in exile.
Meanwhile, the situation with the new enemy being the Seljuk Turks in the east grew more severe during Isaac I’s reign that they began penetrating deep into Byzantine Armenia already but without much success while in the Balkans, the Pechenegs continued their raids and so did the Magyars who at this point had already transformed into the Kingdom of Hungary since the beginning of the century. Isaac would however only personally lead the army once in his reign which was in the summer of 1059 in the Balkans where he battled both the Hungarians and Pechenegs, although there are not that much sources recording this 1059 campaign, but what is known is that Isaac here concluded a peace treaty with the Hungarians in the city of Serdica in Bulgaria while with the Pechenegs, he was successful in crushing them. On his return trip to Constantinople, Isaac was caught in a storm and almost killed that a rumor was spread that he died, although Isaac still returned to the capital becoming more paranoid of everyone due the rumor according to Psellos who was present here. Later in 1059, Isaac as a hunting enthusiast went out on a hunting trip outside Constantinople but during the hunt, he fell ill with a fever which lasted for days that he would soon start fearing he would die any time soon, and so it was time he named a successor. Isaac meanwhile had been married to the Bulgarian princess Ekaterina, the daughter of the last Bulgarian tsar Ivan Vladislav and sister of Presian who if you remember was the lover of Theodora who plotted to kill Romanos III before, and following the annexation of the Bulgarian Empire in 1018 by Basil II, Ekaterina was taken to Constantinople as an important hostage wherein later on she would marry Isaac due to his connections with the emperor Basil II then, although Isaac and Ekaterina had only one daughter and no sons.
Though having no sons, Isaac had a younger brother the Kouropalates and Domestikos John who was in all ways fit to succeed him but Isaac’s daughter Maria and Psellos convinced him that he must not choose a family member but a man loyal to him to succeed him, and this man was the general Constantine Doukas who was however closer to Psellos than to Isaac. Now Isaac agreed to abdicate and pass the throne peacefully to Constantine Doukas, although some weeks later Isaac recovered and felt like he had no need to abdicate but it was too late as Constantine Doukas had already been crowned as Emperor Constantine X with Michael Psellos, now the new kingmaker even placing the purple sandals on Constantine’s feet. Seeing nothing could be done anymore, Isaac retired for good as a simple monk in the Monastery of Stoudion in Constantinople’s suburbs wherein he grew up and was educated in and now in retirement, he was reduced to performing the simplest tasks such as being the doorman, while not to mention it was also in 1059 when the ex-emperor Michael VI died as a monk somewhere else while Isaac unfortunately died later on in the next year 1060 here in the Stoudion Monastery at 53 when he was the kind of strongman emperor necessary for this time.
The new emperor Constantine X Doukas was by career a general though he never really had any military experience as compared to his predecessor Isaac I, and the only reason why Constantine was a general was because he was from the nobility, as in fact the Doukas family wherein he came from had turned out to be one of the original families in the Byzantine Senate ever since Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire was founded in 330 by the first Byzantine emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337), and because of his family’s status, Constantine Doukas was able to attain the rank of general without really deserving it.
Though not having much military experience, Constantine though had once served as the governor of the Theme of Moesia in Northern Bulgaria but nothing much else is said about his earlier years until helping Isaac I take the throne in 1057, and then now in 1059 succeeding Isaac at the age of 53. The more interesting part though about Constantine X is that before he assisted in Isaac’s rebellion in 1057, he had been married to Eudokia Makrembolitissa, a woman 25 years younger than him who was not really anyone important except that she was only the niece of the former patriarch Michael Keroularios, though they would seem to be an odd couple as Constantine struck everyone as nothing much but a boring and negative old man while Eudokia was much younger, attractive, and flashy therefore her main reason to marry Constantine in this story’s case was because of his wealth and influence, although another reason to why they were married was because both enjoyed debating about religion and philosophy and Constantine was known to be an addict in debating about these topics which he happened to be more interested in than in running the empire.
Now as for Constantine X, there are not that much sources that discuss his reign in detail, so rather we only know the important events of his reign, as well as the people of his regime and speaking about the people he appointed, right at the beginning of 1060 when Constantine X had newly occupied the throne as the senior emperor, he already made his eldest son with Eudokia Michael Doukas who was 10-years-old here as his co-emperor as well as their newly born son Constantius, although they also had a middle child named Andronikos but he was left out from the succession for now for unclear reasons, but in this story’s case it would be because being the middle child he was neglected as Constantine too did not need another co-emperor, although Constantine’s younger brother John Doukas here was appointed as a Caesar. Constantine as the emperor lived well while his sons were to be educated by no other than Psellos who was the finest scholar of this time, but while things seemed to be going pretty well in Constantinople, there was more happening around the empire in Constantine X’s reign.
In 1059 over in Italy, the Normans under the same Robert Guiscard had practically conquered all of Calabria and Apulia from the Byzantines and Lombards leaving only the very tip of Apulia where the city of Bari is under Byzantine control, and by expanding his territory to such a great extent, the pope in 1059 recognized Robert Guiscard as a duke and his territory as the Duchy of Calabria and Apulia. In 1061, the Norman armies of Southern Italy now set off to finally conquer Sicily from the divided Arabs that still held it and in charge of the campaign was Robert’s younger brother Roger, and though the expedition began with failure when battling the Arab fleet near Messina, things would go in favor for the Normans in 1062.
By 1063, the Normans would practically conquer almost all of Sicily after defeating the Arab forces at the Battle of Cerami, and here one brave but at the same time troublesome warrior, the henchman of the Hauteville brothers Robert and Roger would prove his skill and bravery in battle and this was Roussel de Bailleul, who would later serve as a mercenary for the Byzantines. Back in Constantinople, Constantine X proved that he wasn’t a very competent emperor although on the positive side he was neither idiotic nor wasteful in spending, but what made him unpopular with his subjects was because he was basically boring, unattractive, negative, bigoted, and demanded heavy taxes especially since Isaac I before him ruled too short to fill up the empire’s treasury again and restore the original value of the gold solidus coin. Not having any of his predecessor Isaac I’s skills as a strongman running the empire, Constantine decided to discontinue Isaac’s military reforms which turned Isaac’s supporters against him seeing Constantine as a traitor to their movement that in 1061, they plotted to assassinate him in his ship, however they got into the wrong ship as Constantine already set sail in another one and so to punish these conspirators, Constantine only exiled them and confiscated their property rather than doing something harsh like blinding or executing as Constantine was not really a brutal punisher despite being generally hateful towards people and intolerant towards non-Orthodox Armenian Christians who he persecuted. When it came to raising funds, Constantine X resorted to going as far as selling off court positions and for the army, just like Constantine IX before him, he was very much neglectful that he simply decided to disband 50,000 soldiers in the Armenian army as there was no longer that much state funds to pay them, therefore replacing them with mercenaries from all over including Pechenegs, Turks, Normans, and more as they did not need to be paid in a regular basis like the regular army was.
The decision to disband the army however came at the worst time possible as right here, the Seljuks continued their raids into Byzantine territory and what was even worse for the Byzantines was that in 1063, the Seljuks got a new leader or sultan which was Alp Arslan which meant “Great Lion” in their language- although his real name was Muhammad Chaghri– a great-grandson of their founder Seljuq who was a very ambitious ruler compared to his predecessors. In 1064, the Seljuks led by Alp Arslan were able to capture the strategic Armenian capital of Ani from the Byzantines, the same city Constantine IX’s forces conquered almost 20 years earlier as well as its surrounding areas, and when capturing Ani, the Seljuks carried out such brutal atrocities including massacres on the locals that it sent shockwaves across the empire thus showing for the first the time how capable and deadly the Seljuks were when it came to war. In 1065, the Byzantines faced another disaster which was the loss of their Danube frontier city of Belgrade to the expansion of the Hungarians while at the same time, the Oghuz Turks that were now settling north of the Danube raided imperial territory in the Balkans but their attacks did not last long as a plague broke out there killing many and forcing the remaining ones to retreat. In the meantime, the Normans were not only succeeding in Italy but in other parts as well as in 1066, the Normans had their most famous conquest which was their successful invasion of Anglo-Saxon England under the Duke of mainland Normandy in France William the Conqueror who seeing that England being weakened was able to conquer it with success after the fateful Battle of Hastings, thus he became the first King of England. It also happened in 1066 that the same old Viking Harald Hardrada that served Byzantium under Michael IV before but now became the King of Norway died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England when trying to invade Anglo-Saxon England, but despite the Saxons’ victory their state became too weak that it fell to the Normans later that year. Back in Byzantium, the situation regarding the invasions had already proved too much for the aging Constantine X to handle and so he did not do anything at all and by the time 1067 came, his health had grown worse as already when coming to power in 1059, Constantine X was already unhealthy and overweight and in May of 1067, he died at 61 while on his deathbed he demanded his wife Eudokia to take a vow never to remarry as Constantine wanted to be succeeded by no one else but his sons which is why he already made them co-emperors.
Though Constantine X’s eldest son with Eudokia Makrembolitissa which was Michael was already 17 here, thus being of legal age to rule alone, he was just as passive as his father and lacked the full training to be sole ruler, so instead his mother Eudokia had to be confirmed as both the regent for her co-emperor sons Michael and Constantius and the ruling empress or Augusta. The state administration for now however was not really under Eudokia’s management but rather by Constantine X’s brother the Caesar John Doukas and Michael Psellos who still remained serving the imperial court. This time however was a bad one in particular for the empire to have no senior male emperor running it as the Seljuks under Alp Arslan following their capture of Ani had expanded to a much larger extent that their territory had stretched across the entire eastern border of Byzantium, thus completely cutting off Byzantium’s border with the Arab powers of Syria and Mesopotamia, and so it was at this point when the Byzantine and Arab worlds that had bordered each other for the past 4 centuries would no longer border each other anymore due to the expansion of the new power of the Seljuk Empire. Despite the dire situation the empire was in wherein it needed a strong emperor in charge, Eudokia still kept her promise to her late husband to never remarry and wait until her sons are capable enough, although this power vacuum true enough caused ambitious generals to grab the opportunity and take the throne by marrying the widowed empress and among them was the same old Nikephoros Botaneiates who by this point resigned from his position as the governor of Antioch and the young Cappadocian Romanos Diogenes- the son of the late Constantine Diogenes who committed suicide back in Romanos III’s reign in 1032 when accused of conspiracy- now finally coming into the picture. Romanos Diogenes who was in the Balkans was much closer to Constantinople and after Constantine X’s death in 1067, Romanos was accused of planning to usurp the throne, and so he was arrested in the Balkans and locked up in prison in Constantinople.
The thing here for Eudokia was that not only did she need a husband as an emperor but someone to be a father for her children as aside from her 3 sons with Constantine X, they had 3 additional daughters Anna, Theodora, and Zoe and when seeing Romanos for the first time in prison, Eudokia immediately fell in love with him as Romanos unlike her late husband Constantine X who was old and unattractive was handsome, energetic, and charismatic with green eyes and long brown hair, and Romanos too was only a year older than Eudokia being 37 while Constantine before him was a full 25 years older. Between the 65-year-old Nikephoros Botaneiates and 37-year-old Romanos Diogenes, Eudokia definitely fell for Romanos and with the approval of the Byzantine Senate, the Caesar John Doukas, Michael Psellos, and the current Patriarch of Constantinople John VIII Xiphilinos, Romanos and Empress Eudokia married on the first day of 1068 whereas Romanos too was crowned as the senior emperor Romanos IV Diogenes, and finally Eudokia and Constantine’s middle son Andronikos was crowned as co-emperor together with his two brothers Michael and Constantius.
The leading people of the administration like the Caesar John Doukas and his son Andronikos Doukas who was a general in training, as well as Michael Psellos disliked the new senior emperor Romanos IV who they now saw as the new gold digger who only married Eudokia for wealth the same way how they viewed Eudokia marrying Constantine X before, though they also saw Romanos as a far from capable opportunist as for one he came from a disgraced family as his father in 1032 killed himself rather than confessing his crime and the army Romanos commanded was not the kind of feared and disciplined professional Byzantine army but an undisciplined and disorganized band of mostly foreign mercenaries including Slavs, Armenians, Bulgarians, and Franks, but Romanos at the same time was also a strict disciplinarian and so he was able to quickly discipline his unruly troops. In the meantime, the Seljuk Turks who now had gained allies among the nearby Arab powers and other Turkic nomads mindlessly raided deep into Byzantine Syria, Cilicia, and Cappadocia, even sacking Caesarea, the capital of the Theme of Cappadocia. Alp Arslan however never really intended to invade Asia Minor but only the eastern parts of the Byzantine Empire such as Armenia and Syria in order to gain access to march into the Levant and Egypt held by the Fatimid Caliphate, although at the same time he had been threatening the Kingdom of Georgia northeast of Byzantium in order to get some access to the Black Sea. The problem however was that most of Alp Arslan’s army was disorganized and so they mindlessly penetrated Byzantine Asia Minor without Alp Arslan’s orders, although Romanos knew very little and so he began his reign immediately campaigning in Asia Minor. Romanos IV was the kind of military emperor that disliked being in the capital and having to be involved in court politics and just as he was crowned emperor in early 1068, he immediately gathered his army and campaigned all over Asia Minor with successful results. The Seljuks and their other Turkic allies though proved to be an easy enemy to kill in battle as they travelled light, were barely armored, and primarily only used their bow but the problem with them was that they moved too fast, therefore it was too difficult to be able to contain their raids that here when Romanos was campaigning in Cilicia against a group of Turkic raiders, he got news that another group had breached into the region of Pontus to the north, thus he had to rush there and later when being able to capture a band of raiding Turks near the mountain city of Tephrike in Eastern Asia Minor, a large number of them escaped. Another example of how these Turks moved so fast and were able to escape so quickly was later in 1068 when they reached as far as the Anatolic Theme in Western Asia Minor even sacking its capital Amorion and by the time Romanos rushed to Amorion’s defense, it was too late as the Turks escaped back to their base in Eastern Asia Minor. Romanos IV then again spent the next year (1069) once more campaigning in Asia Minor against the uncontrollable Turkic raiders that now resumed attacking the cities of Melitene and Iconium, and hoping he could contain them this time Romanos once again attacked with some success that he was able to pursue the Turk raiders across the Euphrates River.
Romanos then decided to march further east to capture the fort of Ahlat along Lake Van in Armenia to build a permanent defense there against the Turks, but at the same time, the Turks attacked in the south raiding into Cilicia where the Byzantine army there at least drove them away. Alp Arslan in the meantime was not around to control his people’s mindless raiding into Byzantine territory as here he was too busy in the south battling his primary enemy, the Fatimid Caliphate while Romanos waiting for a response from Alp Arslan returned to Constantinople in 1070 where he would spend most of the year in while he appointed his general Manuel Komnenos, nephew of Isaac I and son of the late John Komnenos (died in 1067) to be in charge of the eastern armies. Empress Eudokia meanwhile being 39 was still able to bear children with Romanos and so in 1070, she had given birth to her twin sons with Romanos which were Leo and Nikephoros Diogenes, which was something positive for the couple but for the rest of the imperial Doukas family such as Eudokia’s children with Constantine X and the Church, the birth of these twins was seen as trouble as one day it could create a major succession crisis on whether Eudokia’s children with Constantine would rule the empire or her sons with Romanos. On the other hand, Romanos too from his previous marriage already had a son named Constantine who was however estranged from him, so therefore Constantine would never enter the imperial palace and join the imperial family but rather live quietly away from the politics of Constantinople. Another person that was now in the picture of the politics in Constantinople was the Georgian princess Maria of Alania, the daughter of the King of Georgia Bagrat IV who since 1065 had married the co-emperor Michael Doukas as part of Michael’s father Constantine’s alliance with Georgia back then when he was still alive. Maria earlier on in 1056 as a very young girl was brought to Constantinople to be educated under the patronage of Empress Theodora but after Theodora’s death that same year, Maria had to return to Georgia only to return to Constantinople in 1065 to marry the co-emperor Michael, and now in 1070 she was 17 and in appearance was skinny with reddish-brown hair and pale skin, but despite her somewhat weak appearance, she possessed a lot more ambition compared to her bookish and passive husband. Back to Romanos IV, in the capital he resumed the unpopular economic measures of Isaac I years earlier by doing the same in cancelling bonuses and cutting the budget for beautifying the capital and for spending on court ceremonies and chariot racing in the Hippodrome, and instead diverting the budget for the army which made him highly unpopular in the capital. Romanos however saw that it was necessary he cut the budget on these things which he saw as unnecessary as it was obvious that the situation was dire not only in Asia Minor with the Seljuk raids but in Southern Italy too where Byzantine control was only limited to the city of Bari which now was already under siege by the Normans.
The Climax Part I- The Battle of Manzikert (1071)
The year 1071 would indeed be a fatal one for Byzantium as at first in April, the Byzantines had completely lost control of Italy after 500 years of rule when their last city of Bari finally surrendered to the Norman brothers Robert Guiscard and Roger who had been besieging it for the past 3 years, thus these events would according to Robin Pierson of the History of Byzantium Podcast be the one that would forever make Byzantium culturally and physically distant from the west as Italy was their last holding in the Western world which they held onto since Justinian I’s time in the 6th century. The complete loss of Italy to the Normans was shocking to the emperor Romanos IV but his priority was still Asia Minor as for the past year being back in Constantinople, Romanos had been preparing his army and raising up to 40,000 which as usual of this time due to the disbanding of most of the professional eastern army by Constantine X included a large portion of mercenaries except this time it was very multinational with Armenians, Georgians, Arabs, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Oghuz Turks, Russians, Khazars, Slavs, Pechenegs, Franks (Germans), and Normans which were under the command of the same Roussel de Bailleul of the Battle of Cerami in 1063, while the elite Varangian Guard was to be at his side as they battle Seljuks. Romanos IV true enough used the budget he cut for the capital’s buildings and chariot races to build up this massive army and to pay for their supplies and new superior weapons which he invested heavily on. No matter how much the people booed at him for being no fun or no matter how much he was seen as the kind of military dictator like Isaac I, Romanos did not care as he was doing all of this to defend the empire against a serious threat which was that of the Seljuks which were actually not that serious as again their sultan Alp Arslan was more intent to just take over Byzantine land to gain access to fight the Fatimids of Egypt.
Romanos however was another emperor who wanted to restore Byzantium and its army which had deteriorated over the past years of rule by the weak civilian emperors that neglected it to the glory days of Basil II where the Byzantine army was the most well-organized force in the known world that was feared by everyone, so therefore he wanted to show the Seljuks that they were not dealing with a disorganized force but with the world’s most powerful army. On the other hand, Romanos wanted to live up to the name of his father who had helped Basil II ultimately defeat the Bulgarian Empire at the Battle of Kleidion in 1014 and also bring honor to his family that had been disgraced with his father’s suicide in 1032. Alp Arslan however had previously captured the Byzantine fortresses of Manzikert and Archesh along Lake Van though only for strategic purposes as these fortresses controlled the trade routes in the area, but in Constantinople Romanos saw this as a declaration of war, although he did not immediately declare war but instead sent word to Alp Arslan over there that he wanted to conclude a treaty with him. The real purpose for this agreement however was to trick Alp Arslan into attacking him while Alp Arslan was unprepared and once he settled the agreement, Romanos marched out of Constantinople back to Asia Minor, but what here would be Romanos’ downfall was his impatience and arrogance as he was intent on a full-scale war with the Seljuks even if they were not really intending to fully conquer Byzantium. In this campaign, Romanos took along with him the Caesar John Doukas’ son Andronikos as a back-up general but also part of Andronikos’ military training, though Romanos’ real reason was to keep him close being paranoid that Andronikos would steal the throne from Romanos while he is away. The march however began out terribly when Romanos’ Norman mercenaries under Roussel pillaged some villages in Asia Minor without orders, though Romanos was able to discipline them by firing a number of Roussel’s men. The army of Romanos eventually reached the area of Lake Van by July wherein they were able to recapture a number of fortresses from the Seljuks, although here Alp Arslan who was over in Syria rushed north to Asia Minor seeing this as an act of violation by Romanos of their treaty. Romanos and his forces meanwhile were able to recapture the important fortress of Manzikert from the Seljuks, although they found no signs of Alp Arslan around and so Romanos sent a division of his army to encircle Lake Van in search for Alp Arslan but also to capture the other strategic fortress of Ahlat along Lake Van which also fell under the Seljuks.
After a few days, Romanos believing the men he sent were able to capture Ahlat sent word to them asking them to return to him at his camp near Manzikert, however this division never returned as they were true enough ambushed by Alp Arslan’s forces at the dead of night as it turned out the Turk horsemen having lived in the steppes for generations had the ability to ride and fight even in pitch darkness thus they left the survivors to retreat south to Byzantine Mesopotamia while their commander too did not think about returning as he was never really loyal to Romanos anyway. The next worst thing that happened following the loss of a large number of troops was that Romanos’ Oghuz Turk mercenaries deserted and joined the Seljuks as they’d rather fight with their Seljuk Turk cousins than against them. On August 25 of 1071, Alp Arslan here sent envoys to Romanos again to conclude peace as Alp Arslan believed Romanos’ attack could have been a misunderstanding but Romanos having raised up to 40,000 troops and putting all the empire’s money into it was intent on a decisive victory in battle, and so he immediately declined the peace terms and sent the envoys away. Romanos here saw it was only the right thing to attack the Seljuks and drive them away once and for all as they had invaded the lands of the Byzantine Empire that the heroes of the previous century such as Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes worked so hard and sacrificed so much to fight for in order to put them back into imperial control from the Arabs, therefore he did not want their hard work to be all lost to the new enemy and so here Romanos declined the envoys’ offers, although he still negotiated smartly sending word to Alp Arslan that he would only agree to peace if it were in Ray, the Seljuk’s newly established capital in Iran.
On the night of August 25, Romanos IV’s camp was harassed by the Seljuk horse archers who as mentioned earlier had the ability to ride and attack at the pitch darkness of night constantly fired arrows at the camp killing even a few Byzantines, however Romanos ordered his men not to fight back as he wanted everyone to all fight together during daytime. The next day (Friday, August 26), both Byzantine and Seljuk forces met formally in the battlefield outside the fortress of Manzikert while Alp Arslan too was present and had been awake before the sun rose dressing himself in white which he did seeing it as a sign that he would die in battle knowing how great Romanos’ army was in number, and here Alp Arslan also summoned his son Malik-Shah to the battlefield announcing to everyone that he will succeed him if Alp Arslan would die here. As Alp Arslan saw this battle only as something that he had to get over with as he never saw it coming, Romanos was already seeing a great victory and a triumphal parade in Constantinople ahead wherein Alp Arslan and his son would be paraded as prisoners and so right after waking up, Romanos ordered his army to assemble into organized formations.
Here, Romanos positioned himself at the center with 5,000 men from the professional Byzantine army of Asia Minor and 500 of the Varangian Guards, while on the right flank were 5,000 Byzantine Cataphract cavalry soldiers and a large number of foreign mercenaries under the command of the general Nikephoros Bryennios who was a loyalist of Romanos, on the right flank were another 5,000 professional Byzantine soldiers and foreign mercenaries under the command of Romanos’ other loyalist general Theodore Alyattes, while the division behind consisted of the reserve troops under Andronikos Doukas. The one missing however was the Norman Roussel de Bailleul and his 500 Norman mercenaries as apparently during the night, he and his men escaped as they being the stereotypical Normans and mercenaries were only in it for money and not loyalty, and so they went away never to be found again. Romanos lost some hope when Roussel’s Normans deserted as well as his Oghuz mercenaries, but not wanting to show any signs of fear or unease which could cause panic among his soldiers, Romanos ordered everyone to charge at the same time in formation, the same old tactic the Byzantine armies have been using ever since. The advance of the Byzantine forces and their allies in organized formations however proved to be ineffective to the loose hit-and-run fighting style of the Seljuks who here formed into a loose crescent formation in order to surround the Byzantines with Alp Arslan and his son at the center of it. The Seljuks with their ability to fire arrows when riding at full speed overwhelmed the heavy armored Byzantines and their allies but the Byzantines still resisted and despite the extreme heat of this day considering it was a summer day in August, the Byzantines still continued fighting even if no side was gaining any advantage.
The battle would continue to last until the sun was going down and this is where everything in this story’s case would change, as in real history Romanos ordered his men to retreat to their camp as the sky started to go dark, but in this story’ case, Romanos not giving up no matter what in order to come out victorious at the end ordered his men to all continue fighting even though it was getting dark as he saw they were coming close to cornering the Seljuk cavalry. The Seljuks however like in real history would also pretend to flee here to set a trap for the Byzantines before they could return and ambush the Byzantines, but in this story’s case as Romanos would see the Seljuk horse archers escaping, he would have the Cataphracts under Bryennios and Alyattes pursue them with full speed while Romanos would also order his Varangian Guards to perform their special ability to charge out in a frenzy while screaming at the same time as their large size and voice was true enough a powerful weapon to intimidate the enemy.
The Varangians here would now attack the Seljuk cavalry cutting down hundreds of horses with their large Dane-axes while Andronikos Doukas on the other hand would here like in real history show his intention to betray Romanos who he hated. In real history though, Andronikos would only spread a rumor to his division that Romanos had been killed in battle only when Romanos retreated to the camp and so rather than sending Romanos reinforcements, Andronikos escaped the battlefield with them. For this story however, Andronikos would break out of formation and attack the Seljuks from the other side as he would want to be the one to score the victory rather than making Romanos take the credit, and so Andronikos would attack Alp Arslan’s division directly. Now in this story since Andronikos Doukas did not abandon the emperor like in real history, the Byzantines would start gaining the upper hand by the time night fell and here in this story’s case, one young soldier which would be the 15-year-old Alexios Komnenos, nephew of the former emperor Isaac I and 6th son of the late John Komnenos that would fight bravely by the emperor’s side and would even lead Romanos into safety when his division came under the attack of Alp Arslan’s best cavalry as the Varangians went elsewhere fighting the rest of the Seljuks. Now in this story’s case, the battle would come to an end when a Varangian would spot Alp Arslan and kill his horse by swinging his axe at his horse, thus tossing the sultan to the ground wherein he would surrender and minutes later, his entire army would pause and panic as they would see their sultan on the ground. Romanos would then retreat to his camp while Alp Arslan would later be brought to him there by Nikephoros Bryennios in chains.
In real history, after Andronikos Doukas’ betrayal, Romanos and his Varangians were surrounded by the Seljuks and after the Varangians fought bravely to the last man, Romanos after falling off his horse that had been killed and getting shot by an arrow in the hand, was captured by a common Seljuk soldier who mistook him for an ordinary soldier as well, as he did not wear his crown while Alp Arslan chased away the remaining Byzantines the next day (August 27).
Romanos in real history was then brought in chains to Alp Arslan’s tent where Alp Arslan mistook Romanos for a common soldier, therefore he placed his foot on Romanos’ neck but when finding out he was the emperor, Alp Arslan began to treat Romanos well. In this story however, when Alp Arslan was the one brought to Romanos’ camp, Romanos would be the one to step on Alp Arslan’s neck just as a sign of saying he conquered him, but would also treat him well afterwards. In real history, the terms Romanos had to agree to in order to be released were surprisingly not very demanding as Alp Arslan only requested that the Syrian cities of Antioch, Edessa, Hierapolis, and also the fortress of Manzikert be surrendered to the Seljuks to make way for their invasion of Fatimid territories in the south while Romanos was to also pay Alp Arslan 360,000 gold coins annually and to agree for marriage between Alp Arslan’s son and Romanos’ daughter from his previous marriage.
Here however, Alp Arslan and Romanos like in real history would end up becoming friends while Alp Arslan would be the one here that would have to agree on not so demanding terms which would just include paying tribute to the Byzantines as well as returning Manzikert and Ahlat in exchange for taking these Syrian cities mentioned earlier in order to fully carry out his conquest of Egypt, but the most demanding thing Alp Arslan would have to face here was to turn over his son Malik-Shah to Romanos as a hostage. In real history, after Romanos agreed to Alp Arslan’s terms, he was released, given gifts, and even escorted halfway into Asia Minor by Alp Arslan himself though here, Romanos would be the one to release Alp Arslan some days later and have his general Theodore Alyattes and the young Alexios Komnenos escort Alp Arslan to Syria wherein they would be the ones to personally hand over to Alp Arslan the keys to Antioch, Edessa, and Hierapolis. Romanos together with Bryennios, Andronikos, and their hostage which was the sultan’s son Malik-Shah would return to Constantinople but before arriving back in the city, Romanos would have both Andronikos and Bryennios search around Asia Minor for the renegade Roussel de Bailleul. Back in Constantinople, Romanos having lost 10% of his army in the battle and coming back extremely tired from it decided to not celebrate a triumph but would instead return to the palace being awaited with a shocking surprise. Like in real history, the Caesar John Doukas and Michael Psellos due to the absence of Romanos would plot against him behind his back, thus they bullied the empress Eudokia by forcing her to retire to a monastery too while the co-emperor Michael Doukas was proclaimed as the senior emperor Michael VII in October in opposition to Romanos who they declared deposed. In this case, Romanos would be denied entry into the palace by the newly appointed eunuch administrator Nikephoritzes– whose name literally meant “little Nikephoros”- and he had been in the imperial court ever since Constantine IX’s reign in the 1050s as a secretary but had been exiled due to him spreading lies, but John Doukas who was basically calling the shots for the past months with Romanos away recalled Nikephoritzes to the palace as John believed he was a competent administrator despite being a corrupt schemer, while in real history, Michael VII under his uncle John Doukas’ influence also refused to recognize the treaty between Alp Arslan and Romanos. Romanos IV was now left all alone and not even allowed to see his twin sons despite winning the Battle of Manzikert, therefore even if the Byzantines won over the Seljuks at Manzikert, the same political instability and greed would still continue to reign, so it is sad to say that even with a Byzantine victory at Manzikert, the same situation in the empire’s politics would still live on.
The Climax Part II- The Aftermath of Manzikert (1072-1078)
The Battle of Manzikert in real history at first was not such an extreme loss for the Byzantines as the terms Romanos IV had to agree with Alp Arslan in order to be kept alive were not as harsh as he had thought it would be while only 10% of the Byzantine army was wiped out.
The real disaster however was to come gradually after the battle as after the Seljuks had won, they were allowed to roam freely into the Byzantine heartland of Asia Minor thus changing its geography so significantly as after the Byzantine defeat at Manzikert, Asia Minor became something like a donut bitten on one side where all 3 sides along the coast were still under Byzantine hands, while the center fell under the Seljuks with the donut’s bite as the area the Seljuks penetrated through to get to the center. The eventual loss of the central regions of Asia Minor including Cappadocia and Armenia to the Seljuks thus led to the collapse of the Thematic System or the Themes as most of the Themes were in Asia Minor but with Seljuk occupation they had collapsed, though the real downfall of Byzantium was not so much the loss of Asia Minor to the Seljuks but the greed of the current powerful officials of the time such as John Doukas, Michael Psellos, and Nikephoritzes who mostly neglected the collapse of the Themes in Asia Minor and instead used the defeat of Romanos IV to increase their power. In this story however, the only difference would be that the Byzantines won at Manzikert, therefore the Seljuks under Alp Arslan would have to turn the other way thus not being able to roam freely in Asia Minor anymore, while at the same time, the same Themes of Asia Minor that had been around for centuries would still stand with the situation of Byzantine Asia Minor turning into a donut as I mentioned not happening, but the rest will be the same which would be the increasing greed of the imperial court and the obliviousness of the new emperor Michael VII. In this story, the same would happen like in real history when Michael VII under the influence of his uncle John Doukas would turn against his stepfather Romanos IV, except in real history since Romanos was captured by Alp Arslan, he only learned he was betrayed before he returned to Constantinople, but here even if he won the battle, Romanos would still learn he had been betrayed but already when back in Constantinople, and so when being banned from entering the palace, Romanos here for this story would just get his hostage Malik-Shah, the son of Alp Arslan into the palace while Romanos would afterwards return to Asia Minor in search for the renegade traitor Norman Roussel de Bailleul. The other difference in real history being that Romanos lost to the Seljuks was that all his credibility had disappeared therefore this gave a perfect reason for Michael VII and his court to turn on him, while also in real history the traitor Andronikos Doukas who returned to Constantinople convinced everyone Romanos had died but as soon as Romanos was discovered to be alive, they all turned on him. In this story however, Romanos would also suffer the same fate as when heading back to Asia Minor in search for the escaped Roussel, he would be ambushed by Andronikos Doukas who in this story was sent by Romanos to track Roussel. In the meantime, Romanos’ trusted general Theodore Alyattes who like in real history had also survived the Battle of Manzikert in this story, and Alyattes who in this story’s case returned to Central Asia Minor from Antioch with his troops that survived Manzikert would like in real history confront the forces of Andronikos Doukas. Alyattes being too tired after the Battle of Manzikert and travelling for kilometers would lose to the Doukas brothers and like in real history would get blinded with the use of tent pegs, thus with such a painful blinding, Alyattes would die a few weeks later from his injuries. Romanos then like in real history after his army’s defeat would first retreat south to his homeland of Cappadocia and then to the coastal city of Adana in Cilicia, although Andronikos like in real history would still be able to track Romanos to Adana and force the local garrison to surrender to him. Romanos was then brought before Andronikos who at least agreed to spare Romanos if he gave up his crown and the imperial purple and retire to be a monk, thus Romanos was loaded into a cart headed for Constantinople by road but before reaching the capital, John Doukas would send word to his son Andronikos that he did not agree with the terms and so here while stopping over at the city of Kotyaion in Western Asia Minor, Romanos like in real history would be betrayed and brutally blinded in June of 1072.
The blinding of Romanos was allegedly said to be done by an inexperienced Jew- which is true for this story’s case- who took 3 attempts to successfully blind Romanos and due to how bloody and slow the blinding was carried out, the injury inflicted on Romanos was so severe that within only a few weeks, Romanos like in real history who would receive no medical care after his blinding would die so shamefully exiled in one of the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea outside Constantinople, though at least he would be allowed a proper burial by his wife the exiled empress Eudokia like in real history. Now Romanos IV Diogenes is one Byzantine emperor with a mixed reputation depending on who wrote about him as Michael Psellos who in reality just like in this story hated Romanos described him as just a power hungry glory seeker who deserved his defeat at Manzikert in real history as well as his blinding in 1072, while the other historian of Romanos’ time Michael Attaleiates (1022-1080) who knew Romanos well was more sympathetic to Romanos portraying him as a tragic hero who only wanted to do what was best to save the empire from the immediate threat of the Seljuks. Now I would say that a more unbiased way to see Romanos IV was that he was someone who would do whatever he thought was right in order to drive away the Seljuks and save his empire, but his major flaw though was his arrogance and impatience especially when brashly marching out to battle the Seljuks in Manzikert even if the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan never wanted a full war with Byzantium anyway. And though having to end up with such a tragic fate, Romanos in this story would be the one to thank for saving Asia Minor from collapse through constant Seljuk raids that would take place in reality. On the other hand, Sultan Alp Arslan too would meet his end in 1072 just like in real history, and here as Alp Arslan was preparing to invade his people’s ancestral lands in Central Asia known as Turkestan, he captured a local governor who he had sentenced to death, but before being executed, the governor pulled out his dagger and stabbed Alp Arslan in the chest killing him. Alp Arslan would then be succeeded by his son Malik-Shah I who in this story will leave Constantinople and return to the Seljuk capital of Ray, although as a ruler he would not be as ambitious as his father and in this story’s case at least, Byzantium and the Seljuks would not be in much conflict with each other anymore.
In this story’s case, the reign of Emperor Michael VII Doukas as senior emperor following the Battle of Manzikert and the absence of Romanos IV in 1071 would not turn out to be as disastrous as it was in real history, mainly because the expansion of the Seljuks deep into Asia Minor would not happen due to losing to the Byzantines at Manzikert and following the death of Alp Aslan in late 1072, the Seljuk Empire would weaken in power. Though as he is usually described in real history, Michael VII in this story will be the same kind of incompetent emperor oblivious to the chaos growing in the empire around him, except that with the absence of the continued Seljuk raids in this story, the empire would not be in so much chaos, though Michael’s weakness would surely be an advantage for ambitious generals all over Asia Minor to rebel and put a claim on the throne.
Though Michael VII looked strong and tall in appearance with thick curly hair, big eyes, and a large chest, he was weak on the inside being more interested in studying ancient verses thus people complained about him saying that he was more fit to be a bishop than an emperor, and truly he was the wrong kind of emperor in this time of crisis. The major inconvenience of Michael VII’s reign however was that there were so many people in his court with high positions of power as for instance his two other brothers Andronikos and Constantius as well as his half-brothers the twins Leo and Nikephoros Diogenes which were the sons of Romanos IV and Michael’s mother Eudokia were all co-emperors, while Michael’s wife Maria of Alania was now the senior empress or Augusta and his uncle John Doukas still held the title of Caesar, although here one of Michael VII’s sisters which was Theodora had already married Domenico Selvo, the leader or Doge of the rising Republic of Venice in Italy. Michael VII however being a weak ruler was someone easily influenced and here in 1073, he had been completely under the influence of his new eunuch advisor Nikephoritzes and acting under the bad advice of Nikephoritzes, Michael had sidelined his uncle John Doukas forcing him to retire to his estates in Asia Minor while Michael Psellos too would start feeling neglected as his former student the emperor started favoring Nikephoritzes over him, and so Psellos here would retire to a monastery once again like he did back in the last years of Constantine IX’s reign before Psellos returned to the court under Empress Theodora (1055-1056). Now retiring to a monastery again but this time for good like in real history, Psellos would peacefully finish his Chronographia which is the primary although mostly biased source for this 11th century story.
In this story however, since the Byzantines came out victorious over the Seljuks at Manzikert, they unlike in real history would not have to pay annual tribute to the Seljuks, instead the Seljuks would pay tribute to the Byzantines, therefore the economic instability and collapse in Michael VII’s reign would not happen in this story as it did in real history where the economy was so severely ruined with the standard gold solidus again devalued but this time by an entire quarter, thus Michael VII earned the nickname Parapinakes meaning “minus a quarter” as he devalued the gold currency by a full quarter. Though despite not devaluing the currency here in this story due to the income the empire received from the tribute collected from the Seljuks, the standard gold solidus would still not regain its former full gold value it had before Constantine IX’s reign in the 1040s-50s but again like in real history, the main reason for Michael’s downfall was his corrupt eunuch advisor Nikephoritzes. Like in real history, Nikephoritzes would do the same in this story in further causing starvation in the empire by banning free grain trade and putting himself in complete control of it, thus the prices for grain would begin to rise. The economic policies of Nikephoritzes here would like in real history cause the soldiers in Asia Minor and the Balkans to mutiny due to lack of pay while in the Balkans as well, the same will happen like in real history in 1073 when the Bulgarians would rise up once again against Byzantine imperial authorities being the second Bulgarian rebellion since 1040 against Michael IV, and again it would be against the corrupt taxations of a eunuch official whereas in the last time it was against the eunuch John and this time against Nikephoritzes. This Bulgarian uprising here too would also be one not only regarding imperial taxation but about Bulgarian national identity, therefore the need to declare independence from Byzantium, and again like in 1040 when the Bulgarian uprising’s leader Delyan was said to be a descendant of the last great Bulgarian tsar Samuil, the leader here in 1073 which here though was the Serbian nobleman and ruler of Duklja Constantine Bodin also claimed to be a descendant of Tsar Samuil.
The rebellion in Bulgaria would soon enough prove to be too difficult for the imperial army in the Balkans to contain that it would spread across the region, although at the end the uprising would fully be crushed by the same general from Manzikert Nikephoros Bryennios who in this story after returning west with Romanos IV would be assigned by Michael VII to the Balkans whereas Bodin was captured and the cities taken by the rebels returned to Byzantine rule. Meanwhile, Michael VII seeing all of Byzantine Italy had fallen to the Norman duke Robert Guiscard did not care to take it back anymore as he was already facing many problems and even though in this story’s case due to the Byzantines winning in Manzikert and most of Asia Minor not falling into the hands of the Seljuks, therefore there would be no ambitious generals all setting up their own independent lands, but the problem in Asia Minor would again come from a Norman which is no other than the escaped Roussel de Bailleul. In real history though, Roussel and his Norman mercenaries joined the forces of the young Alexios Komnenos who accompanied his older brother Isaac in a campaign to drive the Seljuks away from Asia Minor where Isaac ended up captured, therefore Roussel and his 400 Normans saw this as an opportunity to escape and establish their own state in Asia Minor. In this story, though the Seljuks would not penetrate into Asia Minor due to losing to the Byzantines at Manzikert, Asia Minor due to losing 10% of its army at Manzikert would still be weakened in terms of defense, giving the Norman Roussel de Bailleul who comes back into the picture after disappearing for some 2 years the right opportunity to do as his Norman people did in Italy by attacking the locals in order to demand pay from them in order to stop their attacks and put them under their protection, thus by doing these acts of terrorism, Roussel like in real history would be able to create his own small independent Norman state in Asia Minor with only 400 men.
Now the Byzantine historians of this time often portray the Normans as treacherous, greedy, and violent which is actually very much true about them and no matter how the Normans would see themselves as cultured French people and devout Catholics, they were still stuck in the violent and greedy ways of their Viking ancestors, and now that the Normans by the 1070s had an empire ruled by different dynasties that now had control of England, Normandy, and Southern Italy, Roussel being in Asia Minor wanted to add it too into the wider Norman Empire. Michael VII however would not be oblivious to Roussel’s rebellion as by 1074, Roussel had already gained some significant control of Asia Minor making the city of Ancyra (today’s Anakara) as his capital, and so Michael VII would call his uncle John Doukas out of retirement and together with his son Andronikos who returns to the picture after he last appeared when blinding Romanos IV in 1072, they would head into Roussel’s territory together with a unit of Varangian Guards and an army under the now aged general Nikephoros Botaneiates who would come back into the picture after many years of retirement, but at the end the Byzantines would suffer a defeat in battle due to the strength of Roussel’s famous Norman heavy cavalry and Botaneiates deserting John and Andronikos Doukas seeing he was too old to fight. With his victory, Roussel would further grow his lands in Asia Minor taking over a number of Byzantine Themes before reaching the Asian shore of the Bosporus right across Constantinople. Wanting to legalize his holdings in Asia Minor, Roussel like in real history here would proclaim John Doukas who became his captive as his puppet emperor against his nephew Michael VII. In real history, Michael VII growing nervous of Roussel’s ambitions in 1075 had made an alliance with the raiding Seljuks in Asia Minor agreeing to give them all the lands in Eastern and Central Asia Minor that they had been raiding in exchange for defeating Roussel, and even though the Seljuk raiders in real history were able to successfully battle Roussel’s forces, Roussel still escaped east while only John and Andronikos Doukas were captured by the Seljuks. This event and not Manzikert in real history was then what led to the ultimate loss of Asia Minor to the Seljuks as after their success in battling Roussel’s forces, the Seljuks successfully gained control over most of Asia Minor. In real history though, both John and Andronikos Doukas were released when Michael VII paid their ransom to the Seljuks, though for agreeing to be made as Roussel’s puppet emperor, Michael VII forced his uncle John to renounce all his ambitions and titles given to him in exchange for not being blinded, thus John had retired as a monk while his son Andronikos would still survive although he would have to retire from public service due to being badly beaten by both his Norman and Seljuk captors. In this story however, Michael VII would not consider an alliance with the Seljuks as they were not present raiding Asia Minor, therefore a large portion of Byzantium’s heartland would not fall under their control, however Michael would still pay his uncle and cousin’s ransom though this time to Roussel and not the Seljuks, and the same fate in real history would happen to John and Andronikos whereas John would be forced to retire as a monk and Andronikos from public service due to his injuries.
Instead of relying on the Seljuk Turks to deal with Roussel like in real history, Michael VII here would still rely on his army, and so in 1075 like in real history, Michael VII would send the young general Nikephoros Palaiologos and his army of 6,000 to deal with Roussel but due to not being paid on time, Palaiologos’ troops deserted him, therefore Michael would have to rely on another general and this would be the young Alexios Komnenos returning to the picture once again and despite being only 20 here in 1076, he possessed a lot of military skill. In 1076, Alexios’ forces like in real history would finally manage to capture Roussel in the Armeniac Theme where Alexios himself would drag Roussel in chains to Constantinople where a blindfold was placed over Roussel’s eyes to pretend he was blinded as Alexios here had been thinking that the emperor would want his prisoner brought in one piece. In this story however, Alexios when reaching Constantinople immediately executed Roussel by beheading him in the Hippodrome for everyone to see, and Michael VII did not care any less as Roussel was indeed a troublemaker and thus his threat had finally ended and the lands he captured returned to Byzantine control. In real history though, Roussel would be imprisoned for a year but released this time swearing loyalty to Michael VII against a rebel general, but Roussel still switched sides but was later executed, except here with Roussel already executed in 1076 none of this would happen for now.
In the meantime, Michael VII was growing ever more unpopular despite defeating Roussel de Bailleuil, and the main reason here was his chief finance minister the eunuch Nikephoritzes that in 1076 as well, the Byzantine garrison along the Danube River in northern Bulgaria rebelled under their commander the Serb Nestor, a former slave of Michael VII’s father Constantine X who was freed and made a governor, though a lot of his wealth and property were confiscated by Nikephoritzes. The troops here demanded that the corrupt Nikephoritzes be removed from office while Nestor allied himself with the Pecheneg people beyond the Danube to gain a larger army in order to march to Constantinople. In 1077, another military rebellion broke out as well and this one was in the Balkans led by Nikephoros Bryennios, the same general that fought at Manzikert in 1071 and crushed the Bulgarian uprising in 1073, and again his rebellion had something to do with Nikephoritzes as Bryennios discovered that he was part of Nikephoritzes’ list of people to assassinate but also growing tired of the emperor Michael VII’s incompetence, he rebelled and marched to his home city of Adrianople in Thrace where he proclaimed himself emperor. Other than Nestor in the Danube and Nikephoros Bryennios in Adrianople, there would be a third general that would rise up against Michael VII and this here was the same old man Nikephoros Botaneiates in Asia Minor, although in real history Botaneiates only rebelled and proclaimed himself emperor after writing a letter to Michael VII asking him to act on the situation in Asia Minor as the Seljuks were already about to take over all of it, but in this story with the Seljuks not going as far as Central Asia Minor, Botaneiates would only rebel as he too was tired of Michael VII’s weak rule and in fear that his weak rule would later allow the Seljuks to one day penetrate deep into Asia Minor. On January 7 of 1078 meanwhile, a number of bishops gathered in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople where they all declared their opposition against Michael VII and proclaiming that Nikephoros Botaneiates should be emperor and here, Michael VII would start losing hope.
In the meantime, Michael and his wife Empress Maria of Alania already had a child which was their son Constantine Doukas born in 1074 and already made co-emperor together with Michael’s brothers Andronikos and Constantius who were still around, although since 1077, Michael’s cousin and John Doukas’ son Andronikos had died due to the injuries he received when captured by Roussel, though his father John was still alive and even though he was made a monk, in early 1078 after the bishops turned on Michael, John too advised his nephew that he must abdicate as the throne was no longer safe for him. Alexios Komnenos on the other hand also in early 1078 arrived in the Danube garrison right in time to defeat the rebel forces of Nestor, although Nestor who allied himself with the Pechenegs escaped with them never to return again.
At around this time as well, Michael VII would make one achievement and this was in being another one of the Byzantine emperors to send ambassadors to China which now was under the Song Dynasty, thus making him the first Byzantine emperor in more than 4 centuries since Constans II (r. 641-668)- if you remember from chapter IV of this series- to send a diplomatic mission to China as it is recorded in the History of Song that in 1081, ambassadors from Byzantine emperor Michael VII visited China, although this mission unlike the one of Constans II if you remember which resulted in something had not and by the time the ambassadors reached China, Michael VII had already been ousted from power for already 3 years as right here in March of 1078, Michael VII like in real history finally decided to abdicate in favor of Nikephoros Botaneiates and retire peacefully to a monastery.
Like in real history, Nikephoros Botaneiates here would gather a few Seljuk allies to help him take Constantinople and by the time he reached the capital, the nobility including the empress Maria of Alania all switched sides to Nikephoros, and so Michael VII after he abdicated was forced to retire to the same Stoudion Monastery where Isaac I retired to some 20 years earlier to also become a monk. Michael’s brothers Andronikos and Constantius too were forced into monasteries in the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea while Romanos IV and Eudokia’s twin sons Nikephoros and Leo Diogenes would still be allowed to remain in the palace, but Nikephoritzes in this story’s case would also flee and like in real history, he would also be tortured to death by the local commander in the Princes’ Islands under the new emperor Nikephoros’ orders. The empress Maria of Alania on the other hand did not retire with her husband, instead she agreed to marrying the old Nikephoros Botaneiates who was over 50 years older than her as Maria was true enough ambitious therefore wanting to keep her power and secure her son Constantine’s succession as Nikephoros had no children anyway. The marriage between the 76-year-old Nikephoros Botaneiates and 25-year-old Maria of Alania thus seemed so outrageous as Maria was young and attractive while Nikephoros looked like he could be her grandfather, but Maria was only marrying him for political reasons as she still wanted to stay in power while Nikephoros too never really cared much about her except again for political reasons to legitimize his claim as being an old man, Nikephoros saw that Maria was too young and beautiful for him that Nikephoros even considered again marrying the former empress which was Michael’s mother Eudokia like he did 10 years earlier as she was much older but still younger than him, but having retired as a nun for many years already, Eudokia refused and so Nikephoros was left to marry the much younger Maria. Nikephoros Botaneiates then ironically came into the power the same way Isaac I Komnenos did in 1057 in the same kind of military revolution and thus he was crowned as Emperor Nikephoros III at age 76, the oldest emperor ever so far to be crowned in Byzantine history and though in real history, Nikephoros III began his reign with the Seljuks already occupying most of Asia Minor due to Michael VII’s previous alliance with them as well as his own, here his Seljuk allies being only a few in number would not gain much but being so old already when coming into power, Nikephoros III’s reign would be another unstable one.
Epilogue and Conclusion
The new emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates may have been a better emperor if he was much younger and if the empire were not in so much chaos as here in this story, despite Asia Minor not being so devastated by Seljuk Turkish raids, the Balkans would be the one chaotic as not only was Nikephoros Bryennios still left there rebelling but the Pechenegs continued their raids too. The situation of the empire in real history under Nikephoros III though would be worse as due to getting the Seljuks and their other Turkish allies to support him, Nikephoros III gave them almost all of Asia Minor including the city of Nicaea very close to Constantinople which then became the Seljuks’ new capital, thus almost all of Byzantine Asia Minor was lost. In real history however, the main Seljuk Empire of Alp Arslan had already more or less dissolved following his death in 1072 thus never making their ultimate goal of conquering Egypt, but this still scattered his Turks around Asia Minor dividing into two major groups with one being the main Seljuk Empire’s successor state which was the Sultanate of Rum and the other one in North-Central Asia Minor being the Danishmend Turks, while in the region of Cilicia in Southern Asia Minor the Armenian people from Eastern Asia Minor fleeing from the expansion of the Seljuk and Danishmend Turks would end up there and establish their own state there in 1080 known as the Principality of Cilician Armenia.
In this story however, none of these would happen in Asia Minor, as the Seljuks would go another way heading down south into the Levant but Nikephoros III’s rule here just like in real history would be the same as he too seeing that the economy had already been damaged under Michael VII would not bother to fix it, and just like Constantine X he was another boring old man that would be too old to save the empire and so he would devalue the currency again even more than it was under Michael VII as in fact under Nikephoros III, the standard gold solidus would be devalued by a full third. Though without Asia Minor being completely almost lost to the Turks here, Nikephoros III would have to suffer a number of military uprisings by a number of generals who all saw he was too old and unfit to rule and to deal with them, Nikephoros III would appoint the young Alexios Komnenos to specifically do that job.
The first general to rebel against Nikephoros III would be no other than Nikephoros Bryennios in the Balkans although later in 1078, Alexios Komnenos would be able to defeat Bryennios in battle afterwards blinding Bryennios who would however still continue to live. The next general to rebel had the same name as the emperor again and this was Nikephoros Basilakes in the Balkans who in 1079 was easily defeated thus blinded by the young Alexios but in Constantinople, the emperor would almost get assassinated by his own Varangian Guard, though to punish them he only sent them way to a fortress in Asia Minor. In the meantime, since Nikephoros III took the throne, he had cancelled the existing marriage proposal between Michael VII and Maria of Alania’s young son Constantine and the Norman duke of Southern Italy Robert Guiscard’s daughter and because of this, Robert Guiscard grew furious that like in real history, he would begin to prepare his forces to invade Byzantium. In 1080, the empress Maria of Alania had happened to adopt Alexios Komnenos despite him being only 3 years younger than her, although the reason for this was that she fell in love with Alexios behind the emperor’s back. In 1080 as well like in real history, another general again named Nikephoros from the powerful Melissenos family rose up against the emperor in Asia Minor and so Alexios was sent to crush this rebellion but on the way, he was persuaded by no other than the retired Caesar John Doukas who became a monk to instead turn on the old emperor and take the throne and soon enough, a large number of the empire’s aristocracy all backed young Alexios as he was seen as more capable to rule in a hard time like this while he too had support as he was a nephew of the former emperor Isaac I Komnenos, and so Alexios would also give up his affair with the empress as he had married Irene Doukaina, the granddaughter of John Doukas and daughter of the late general Andronikos Doukas. Like in real history here, Nikephoros III when finding out Alexios turned on him would try to ally himself with the Seljuks and attempt to make peace with the rebel general Melissenos but without success.
Alexios Komnenos and his forces would arrive outside Constantinople in April of 1081 wherein due to the lack of soldiers defending the walls, Alexios and his army stormed the capital and sacked it while Nikephoros III having no other options abdicated and retired again as a monk although he named Nikephoros Melissenos his successor, but when Alexios Komnenos took the throne, Melissenos surrendered his claim to Alexios. Now Nikephoros III’s name ironically meant “bringer of victory” but he was not able to score any and thus he abdicated as the last emperor in Byzantine history to have that name and in the next year, he would die as a monk at the age of 80. The new emperor Alexios I Komnenos would come to power the same way he did in real history in 1081 ready to save the empire, except without having to face the dire situation of Asia Minor almost lost to the Seljuks but the major threat he would face was the upcoming Norman invasion. First of all, Alexios would adopt Michael VII and Maria of Alania’s son Constantine as his own as well as Romanos IV and Eudokia’s twins Leo and Nikephoros Diogenes in order to secure his legitimacy and despite Alexios being married, he would still allow the empress Maria to remain in the palace while Michael VII’s younger brother Constantius would be released from the monastery and be made one of Alexios’ generals in his upcoming campaign against the Normans.
Like in real history, the Norman invasion of Byzantium led by their duke Robert Guiscard himself would take place in October of 1081 and Alexios I and his forces which would include Anglo-Saxons from England exiled by their Norman conquerors in the Varangian Guard unit would march to confront the Normans. The forces of Alexios I and Robert Guiscard’s Normans would like in real history clash at the Battle of Dyrrhachion in today’s Albania in which the Anglo-Saxon Varangians would meet again with their enemy, their Norman conquerors but in a different place and desiring revenge for conquering their homeland in 1066 and sending them away, the Anglo-Saxons would charge at the Normans without orders thus creating chaos in the Byzantine army which would later lead to their defeat to the Normans. In this story, the Byzantines like in real history would suffer a humiliating defeat to the Normans whereas Constantius Doukas would be killed in battle and the new emperor Alexios barely escaping from it. Alexios however like in real history would still not accept defeat and so he would find a way to bribe Robert Guiscard’s subjects in Italy to rebel against their Norman overlords, thus this had made Robert rush back to Italy to crush their rebellion while at the same time, Alexios would seal what would be a permanent naval alliance with the Republic of Venice against the Normans. Though Robert returned to Italy, his son Bohemond was still left behind to carry out the Norman conquest of Greece but in 1083 his forces would lose to Alexios I’s Byzantine army at the Battle of Larissa in Greece and in 1084, Robert Guiscard would return to Byzantine Greece attempting to carry out a full invasion this time but before being able to, he would die in 1085 like in real history when his army got hit by a local plague in Greece, thus the Norman invasion would be cut short as Bohemond would have to return to Italy to consolidate his rule as its new duke.
With everything settled down, the next time Alexios I would come back into action here just like in real history is in 1091 when the Pechenegs in the thousands invaded the Byzantine Balkans all the way down to Thrace in such a mindless manner and here Alexios would ally himself with the Pechenegs’ mortal enemy which were the other nomadic Turkic people known as the Cumans. Alexios I here like in real history would defeat the Pechenegs at the Battle of Levounion in 1091 where under the request of the Cumans, the Byzantines would carry out a brutal genocide on the Pechenegs wiping out every last one of them, thus the Pecheneg threat would be settled once and for all. What would not happen here which did in real history was Alexios I’s campaign against the renegade Seljuk general Tzachas who both made for himself an independent state and declared himself a Byzantine emperor using the Byzantine city of Smyrna in Asia Minor as his base, but in this story, with there being no Turks in Asia Minor due to their defeat at Manzikert, there would be no Tzachas to pose a threat to Byzantium. In real history though, Alexios I was able to defeat Tzachas only by tricking the Seljuk Sultan of Rum Kilij Arslan I who was Tzachas’ son-in-law that hated him into killing his father-in-law at a dinner which succeeded, but in this story again with no Turks in Asia Minor, none of this would happen.
Watch this to learn more about the Battle of Dyrrhachion, 1081 (Kings and Generals).
For this story, the rest of Alexios I Komnenos’ reign would be fast-tracked, but I would still describe how the situation in the empire would be like in the 1090s considering that the Seljuks lost at Manzikert and therefore did not end up taking almost all of Asia Minor like in real history. On the other hand, the previous emperor Michael VII Doukas who had retired in 1078 to become a monk in this story like in real history would also end up becoming the Bishop of Ephesus during Alexios I’s reign and would die sometime in the 1090s, although in real history Ephesus which was in Asia Minor would still be one of the few remaining territories under Byzantine hands while the rest had already fallen to the divided Seljuk powers, but in this case most of Asia Minor would still be Byzantine except for the far east where Armenia is which in this story would have already fallen to the Seljuks.
In real history, the collapse of Asia Minor to the rule of the Turks was so dire that even the Byzantine army which was still strong considering now that the empire had a strongman emperor again running it which was Alexios I, they still could not do anything themselves to recover all of Asia Minor from the Turks, and so this meant that the emperor needed to seek military aid from Western Europe and this would come in the form of the First Crusade. Now in this story without almost all of Asia Minor lost to the Seljuks and other Turkish powers, Alexios I would have no reason to ask for military assistance from the west as Constantinople itself was not threatened anyway, but I would still say that the First Crusade happened as after all the Council of Clermont in France organized in 1095 by Pope Urban II was called not really to help Byzantium fight against the Turkish invaders but to capture the holy city of Jerusalem from the Turks that had recently captured it. Now Jerusalem for over 4 centuries since the 630s- mentioned back in chapter IV of this series- had been under Muslim hands although the previous Muslim rulers of Jerusalem which were the Arab Caliphates still allowed Christian pilgrims from Europe to travel freely into the city, but with the new Muslim power of the Seljuk Turks seizing Jerusalem- which like in real history would also happen in this story- it had become too dangerous for Christian pilgrims to travel there as along the way they would be ambushed by Seljuk Turk raiders who were more fanatical Muslims than their Arab predecessors.
When the First Crusade to recapture Jerusalem from the Turks was called in 1095, a large number of knights and nobles from Europe willingly agreed to it to defend their faith but a lot of them also did it in search of land and riches and true enough the Normans of Italy led by no other than Bohemond, the son of Robert Guiscard was willing to fight in the Crusades for his own personal glory, especially to add more lands this time in the Middle East into the empire of the Normans. The first wave of Crusaders to march from Europe to the Middle East by land were however not a group of organized knights but an unruly pack of peasants led by the French monk Peter the Hermit, and this movement was known as the People’s Crusade which in 1096 arrived in Byzantine lands pillaging it that Alexios I had to act on it quickly and so he had these unorganized Western European peasants quickly transported across the Bosporus into Asia Minor where they would be defeated, dispersed, and captured by the Seljuks never even making it anywhere near their main objective in the Levant.
The army Alexios I asked for however came in 1097 and part of it was his old nemesis the Norman Bohemond, and this army consisting of knights and noblemen despite being organized were however also troublesome as they never really wanted to help Byzantium regain their lands but take these lands for themselves and so to put them under control, Alexios I brought them to Constantinople to make sure they all swore loyalty to him or else they would not be allowed to continue their march. Most of the Crusader leaders however swore their loyalty but some of them still did not and even though some did, they still never remained loyal. As the Crusaders continued their march, most of Asia Minor was still returned to Byzantium as the Byzantine army had escorted them to make sure Byzantine lands were restored to the empire and true enough the city of Nicaea was returned to Byzantium in 1097 only because the Byzantine army took it back from the Seljuks by surprise behind the Crusaders’ backs, although after this the Crusaders managed to win a decisive victory over the Seljuks at the Battle of Dorylaeum in Asia Minor which then opened for them the way to march south into the Middle East.
The Crusaders had soon enough been able to reach Syria with much difficulty and in 1098, the Norman forces under Bohemond were able to capture the city of Antioch from the Seljuks thus Bohemond had claimed it for himself establishing the Norman Principality of Antioch with him as its prince. The rest of the Crusaders then proceed south and in 1099, before the next century had begun, the Crusades’ division of the Frenchman Godfrey of Bouillon were able to achieve their ultimate goal which was capturing Jerusalem and what followed the Crusaders’ capture of Jerusalem was a complete massacre of the city’s Muslim and Jewish population by the Crusaders out of revenge. In this story however, since the Byzantines again would not suffer the loss of almost all of their heartland Asia Minor to the Seljuk Turks, none of these events would happen as Alexios I would not have to ask for military assistance from the west which would in real history come in the form of the First Crusade that would be both a benefit and problem for the Byzantines, although without having to ask for military assistance from the west, the First Crusade would surely still happen as Jerusalem would still fall to the Turks, therefore the pope would still have to gather the people of Europe to fight back, but the thing here is that without Byzantium asking for their assistance, these Crusaders would have no way to get to the Middle East as the only way was through Byzantium itself, and so without the Byzantine emperor asking for them, the Crusaders would have to find another way to get to Jerusalem but that would be a totally different story that you would have to decide for yourselves how that would go. Anyway, I would have to end the story right here where the eventful and challenging 11th century ends and where a new era begins, and this new era being the era of the Crusades would be a story for another time. Now, what a Byzantine victory at Manzikert in 1071 would result in would simply be that the situation of Asia Minor being overrun by the Turks would not be so devastating like it was in real history, therefore no need for the Byzantine emperor to call for Western military assistance, although a lot of things would still be the same and this would be that Byzantium even though winning a victory over the Seljuks would still have to face the disaster of civil wars and rebellions as well as a damaged economy while even though Byzantium would not ask for Western military assistance against the Seljuks, the First Crusade would still more or less come to happen as their main objective was Jerusalem anyway and not to help Byzantium.
Our story will end right here where this roller-coaster 11th century ends, and like many centuries in the history of Byzantium, the 11th century beginning with Basil II and ending with the First Crusade was one that had only featured so many events happening as it saw Byzantium go from a world power when the century began with the reign of Basil II to an empire weakened by new enemies they never have heard of until they came. The 11th century started off with Byzantium as the dominant power of the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe that everyone looked up to for its culture and feared the power of its army especially considering how one entire nation being the Bulgarian Empire was wiped off the map and absorbed into the Byzantine Empire. However, this age of greatness did not really continue but the power of Byzantium as an empire, as the century progressed still remained no matter how many economic and political setbacks the empire had gone through. Byzantium reaching its apogee of power and influence under Basil II also meant that it would decline after it as it usually happens that the decline of an empire usually happens after its peak and for Byzantium, the empire may have not suffered so much if Basil II were succeeded by more competent emperors but instead the rulers that followed included his good for nothing brother Constantine VIII who may have only ruled for 3 years (1025-1028), but having a weak and worthless ruler like him meant that the empire was no longer in good hands, but the worst part that was to come after him and this was through his daughter the empress Zoe who wastefully spent the full treasury her uncle Basil II worked so hard to fill while her 3 husbands more or less did the same as she did. Another reason how Byzantium’s power and influence had declined was the weakening of its economy especially by corrupt eunuchs and the 11th century here had featured two notable ones first being Emperor Michael IV’s (r. 1034-1041) brother John and the other being Nikephoritzes, the advisor of the emperor Michael VII (r. 1071-1078). Fortunately, the institutions in the empire including the state bureaucracy and the well-organzied structure of the army with additional assistance such as from the powerful Varangian Guards kept Byzantium strong at this challenging time and despite there being many weak, corrupt, or even idiotic rulers at this period, there were also a few strong and capable ones needed in difficult times like this that were still intent to return the empire to its old glory when there was still a chance to, and these emperors included Isaac I Komnenos (1057-1059), Romanos IV Diogenes (1068-1071), and Alexios I Komnenos where this century ends and though the first two mentioned here never got the chance to fulfil their mission to save the empire from decline, the 3rd one did and under the reign of Alexios I, Byzantium would again return to being the dominant power in the Mediterranean by the time the next century begins. What I now have to say about the 11th century was that for the Byzantine Empire it was a merry-go-around as one moment there would be a weak emperor and a corrupt court then there would be a strong one willing to restore the empire’s power, then again, another weak emperor and so on, but it was still one very action-packed century with just so many stories especially about battles to tell. On the other hand, there were also some things for the empire that they could not do about as for one, having such a large empire in which the empire did after Basil II’s death in 1025 meant that there would need to be so much spending for the army and structures for the empire to keep it running while the other thing that could not be controlled were the rise of new foreign enemies and the Byzantines true enough never saw the Normans in Italy or the Seljuks coming from the far east becoming a major threat so quickly. The 11th century was then a major turning point for Byzantine history as it was when a foreign power being the Seljuks for the first time invaded and would settle permanently in its heartland Asia Minor, thus the beginning of the end of Byzantium, but also a turning point in Turkish history too as the 11th century was the start of the Turkish settlement in Asia Minor which would lead to the collapse of the centuries old Byzantine Thematic System, the separation of Byzantium with the Arab world after 4 centuries of being beside each other, and later to the foundation of the Ottoman Empire and what is today Turkey. The 11th century was also a major turning point for Byzantium as in 1071 Byzantine control over Italy would permanently disappear with the Normans capturing the last Byzantine city of Bari, thus this event would forever separate Byzantium from the western world, though the other big crucial moment was the Great Schism of 1054 which forever divided the Byzantine world from the western world in terms of spirituality, and from here the west would no longer trust Byzantium and vice-versa which would be what the next few chapters of this series will focus on. On the other hand, the 11th century was also very eventful for the larger world as this century saw the Kingdom of France rise to influence, the establishment of the Kingdom of England following the Norman conquest of 1066, the rise of the Kingdom of Hungary, the expansion of Christian Spain when tide of war had turned against their Arab Muslim occupiers with the conquests of the general El Cid, while Egypt under the Fatimid Caliphate grew in influence in this century and so did the Song Empire of China, while distant Japan too underwent the golden age of the Heian Period in this century, and another significant event too was that when this century began the Viking Leif Ericsson first discovered and settled in North America. Back to Byzantium, the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 was really the major turning point if there would have to be an event that would mark the beginning of Byzantium’s decline, but what I am really trying to prove here in this alternate history story is that even if the Byzantines won over the Seljuks at the Battle of Manzikert, the empire would pretty much go through the same story of the emperor Romanos IV being betrayed, uprisings everywhere, and corruption and incompetence in government with the only difference being no major Seljuk Turkish invasion and occupation of Byzantine Asia Minor. Perhaps if Romanos IV were not betrayed and thus he took back the throne successfully, then maybe things would turn out to be different for Byzantium, but for this story I did not want to go with that possibility in order to be more realistic. Now, no matter if the Byzantines won or lost to the Seljuks at the Battle of Manzikert, the empire had already lost a lot of its power and prestige it had at the beginning of the century over the many years leading up to 1071 and even if the Byzantines won, the empire as I said would still suffer the same kind of internal instability while the Normans from the west would still be a threat anyway. However, a Byzantine victory over the Seljuks at Manzikert would have a significant difference for Byzantium in the long term as for one there would be no massive Seljuk Turkish occupation of Asia Minor, therefore no rise of the Ottomans centuries later that would bring in Byzantium’s end in 1453, while no major Seljuk occupation of Asia Minor would also mean no need for Byzantium to ask for Western military aid, but as I said even if there would be no Seljuk occupation of Asia Minor, the First Crusade may still be a thing as their objective was as mentioned not to aid Byzantium but to take Jerusalem back from the Seljuks that captured it. To put it simply, the Battle of Manzikert was not really a major turning point that brought Byzantium down but more like a wakeup call that shocked the empire proving that they were not as invincible as they had thought, and even if the Byzantines defeated the Seljuks here, Byzantium would still fall to its internal fighting and political instability sooner or later which is then the whole point of this alternate history story.
In real history, even if the Byzantines suffered a heavy defeat to the Seljuks at Manzikert in 1071, their empire would still have another 4 centuries of story to tell with more ups and downs and the next chapter of this series will go through Byzantium’s new golden age under the Komnenos Dynasty founded by Alexios I in 1081 just like in this story and how this new golden age would as usual come to an end but this time by the new force of the Crusaders, but this series’ next chapter too would explore what events in the 12th century could prevent the tragic event of 1204 when Constantinople would for the first time be invaded which here was by the Crusaders which then would be the event that would mark the permanent decline of Byzantium, but that is going to have to be a story for another time. Now, before I finish, I have to say this particular story was a challenging one to write as the scenario of what if the Byzantines defeated the Seljuks at Manzikert is already a very popular what if story in Byzantine history, but for this I just chose to basically follow my thoughts and feelings on how the 11th century would turn out if things went the other way with Byzantium winning at Manzikert in order to make it a more authentic story. Well, this is all for Chapter VIII of Byzantine Alternate History, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller… thank you for your time!
Next Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter IX- 12th Century
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